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The Flush Of The Known Universe Is In Him

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The first time Billy sucked a dick he was fifteen years old, in the locker room at his old school in California. It was filthy, the wet tile of the showers soaked the knees of his jeans while he figured out how to relax his tongue and lick at the same time, how to move his hand with his lips, how to breathe around it. Johnny something. A junior. He remembers the nervous excitement the most, how it was enough to get him leaking in his jeans, big conspicuous wet spot next to his zipper by the time he was done. He remembers the taste of it, the weight of it, the feel of a dick twitching in his mouth. How it felt when it’d come, the hot bitter rush of it, swallowing it down. He remembers loving everything about it, the smell of it, the sounds that boy made when Billy pressed his tongue right, the taste, christ, remembers touching his lips for hours after like maybe he could feel the puffy heat of them from the outside too, feel it with his fingers, evidence of it, proof. 

Remembers most how fucking powerful it had made him feel. In control of one fucking thing in his stupid life. This was his

Neil had started calling him a queer before he’d even really figured out that it was true. After, when he was sure, he didn’t have time to feel a lot of shame about it, too busy being fucking angry. Angry at Neil, angry at his life, angry at the world.

He let his first boyfriend, Daniel, pierce his ear with a safety pin in the bathroom at a punk show. When the pin was through and pulled out and the stud shoved through, after Billy looked at it in the mirror for a few long moments, breathless, hot throb of pain in his ear, adrenaline and exhilaration, feeling more in his body, more in control, more himself than he had since his mom, he sunk to his knees right there on the disgusting fucking floor and yanked Daniel’s pants down his legs and buried his face between them, sucked his balls into his mouth and moaned at the way Daniel swore and touched his hair, drowned in the smell of him, closed his eyes and lost himself in the salty hot taste of him, let them drop wet and heavy from his lips and moved up and swallowed his dick whole, more practiced now than he was that first time, real good at not gagging, real good at making boys come quick as hell if he wanted them to. He’d pulled back when Daniel got close, pulled off, let it drag slick over his lips as he looked up and opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out, waiting for it. He remembers the rush of power when Daniel swore and got his fingers around his dick, the heady feeling of seeing the two strokes it took to get him coming, the head-spinning intensity of having a boy come on his tongue, on his lips, on his cheeks while the black graffitied walls around them vibrated and pounded with the bass and the hundreds of boots right outside the door.

The earring got him an ass kicking, so Billy went out and got himself a leather jacket, bought his next pair of jeans a size smaller than usual, started leaving the top two buttons open on his shirts, then the top three, then four. Neil sneered at him and smacked him around and called him a faggot and Billy fooled around with boys in the bathroom at school, behind the bleachers, one memorable time in detention while the teacher was off getting a cup of coffee, in alleys behind punk shows. Billy was far from the only queer in California. Got himself a mullet and a can of hairspray. Learned how to work his curls. Learned how to leave his body when Neil got angry. Learned how to roll a joint and throw a punch and love the taste of come. 

Got himself another boyfriend, right after he turned 17, met him at a show and let him feel him up in a dark corner at the back of the venue. If anyone saw, they didn’t give a shit. Got his first taste of real privacy with that one, Timmy, twenty and with his own place, got the chance to get his mouth all over him, get him all the way naked, taste all those darkest, hottest places. Got to take his time. Tim fucking stank like cigarettes and sweat and beer most of the time and it made Billy’s dick hard as fuck, wanted to roll around in it, bury his face in it and take it with him when he inevitably had to go home to his nightmare of a house with his nightmare of a father and his stupid, naïve new stepmom, his poor new stepsister. Didn’t have to think about any of that shit when Timmy had his thighs locked around Billy’s head, crushing his ears, fingers tight in his hair while he fucked Billy’s throat, while Billy worked his ass with his fingers. Didn’t have to think about it when his thighs were burning and shaking, Tim’s dick splitting him open, making him sweat, making him swear, Timmy smoking a cigarette with one hand and clawing at his thigh with the other, looking up at him like he was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. Couldn’t think about it at all when he was licking the come up off Tim’s belly, licking it off his fingers after sliding them down between Timmy’s cheeks, feeling the place he’d just been, how soft it was, how wet and open and fucking incredible. 

Billy felt alive, then, felt grounded, full. Billy’d always had darkness in him. Always had a little too much fire, too many big feelings that no one ever really showed him how to cope with, but like this, he could go far away from the empty echoey shaky self-loathing he felt other times, far away from the hot blinding rage, far away from the cold checked-out apathy that took over when things were especially bad. Billy could make people feel good. Billy could flood his senses with the hot slick stinking humanity of people who wanted him, valued him, and he could hold back all the dark shit in the center of him that threatened to take him over if he didn’t keep his eye on it. Billy could take that darkness and turn it to pleasure, twist it and mold it and use it to make boys come, to make them cry out, to make them touch Billy all gentle and look at him like he was worth something. He’d found a way to take the reins back, anchor himself, keep a hold on himself. Found a way to feel powerful, feel like he had a say. 

Then shit changed. By the time they made it to Indiana the bruises were mostly healed, but Billy was furious, and terrified, and so fucking alone. Everything was out of control, spinning, sickening, red around the edges. Rug ripped out from under him. Earth cracking under his feet like the streets did sometimes when the ground would shake. It felt like that, one long earthquake all the way to Indiana.

The dark has been back, been big and overwhelming and everywhere since California. The shit with Neil doesn’t help, makes him feel shaky and out of control of his life, makes him feel weak and stupid and small. He’s self-aware enough to know that he doesn’t deal with any of it in a healthy way, that he never has. He drives too fast. Drinks too much. Smokes too many cigarettes, too much weed. Chases whatever highs he can get to try to forget all the crushing, horrible lows.

But when he first sees Harrington that night at the party, hears all the shit Tommy is saying, talking about Steve like he’s hot shit, like he hung the moon, like he’s a real fucking asshole - used to be, anyway, went soft for some bitch about a year back - when he sees him standing there, watches the way Steve looks at him and nothing fucking else while his little bird wanders off with a scowl on her face, watches the way Steve takes his glasses off and looks him up and down and licks his lips and tucks the ear piece of his sunglasses into his mouth and the corners of his lips quirk up in a little grin and his eyebrows go up, just that little touch, Billy fucking knows. Steve’s posture never changes, open, relaxed, not fucking bothered in the least. Amused. Infuriating.

Hot as fuck. 

Harrington is like him. Harrington can handle him. He needs to get his mouth on him as soon as fucking possible.

Hawkins Fucking Indiana is a shithole hellscape, the stuff of nightmares, drab and boring and all fucking beige and Billy hates it. There are no clubs in this town, no metal shows, no beaches, no pretty shitty boys with tattoos on their arms and cigarettes between their lips, no dirty bathrooms for him to get on his knees in. Neil picked a town that would wear khakis and polo shirts on the weekends and cowboy boots for a night out, picked a town where all the girls have the same haircut and the same pair of jeans and the same sweater and the closest thing to an edge this cookie cutter heartland nightmare has got is Tommy H and Carol, who like to smoke weed in Tommy’s basement and fuck in Tommy’s car at lunch and who Billy tolerates because it’s either get stoned with them or be at home, and Neil’s been especially difficult since he found out all those names he likes to call Billy actually kinda fit. 

It’s not all bad, really. Tommy’s got decent weed and likes to watch Carol fool around with other people, so Billy gets his dick sucked a couple times, puts one hand in her curls while he holds the joint in the other, gets high and doesn’t shove her face down, doesn’t snap his hips up, doesn’t think about making Harrington choke on him. Carol’s alright, clearly had practice, clearly enjoys it, smirks at him after she spits his come into an empty beer bottle, makes him laugh. They’re alright. Billy has a theory that Tommy might be living vicariously, might like watching his girlfriend suck guys off because he kinda wishes he was doing it himself, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not Billy’s job to drag small-town queers out of the closet. All he knows is that when Carol’s got her face in his lap, Tommy’s looking at him, not at her. Watches his face with his lips parted and his cheeks pink and Billy feels bad for him, kinda, wonders if he ever did this shit with Steve, wonders if that’s why he talks about him the way he does.

Harrington is frustrating, honestly. Billy can’t seem to get a rise out of him, can’t figure out how to get a look at that fire that Tommy swears is there, and it makes him crazy. He catches glimpses of it, sometimes, a little spark behind his eyes and thinks yes, this is it, and then it’s not, and Billy goes back to simmering, wound tighter and tighter as the days pass and Max runs around with her little friends that Neil wouldn’t approve of and Neil calls him names and shoves him into walls and he’s got no fucking outlet for any of it, here, doesn’t have even the shaky unhealthy webs of support he had in California. There are no loud clubs for him to scream in, no alleys behind them full of boys looking for a fuck or a fight, no good drugs to make him leave his head for a little while, no waves for him to paddle out on and think about drowning himself in. Just beige, just boring, just flat dry cold earth and all the rage and pain and frustration that Billy can’t seem to cry out.

It boils over at the Byers. He doesn’t exactly mean to kick the shit out of Harrington, but he doesn’t not mean to either. Harrington shows him, that night, lets Billy see him, meets Billy on his level. He fucking flies, sweet pain in his face from Harrington’s fists, hot spark of familiarity when Steve looks at him, really looks at him. Steve sees him, and he sees Steve. There’s blood in his mouth and Steve’s pretty pretty face is all bloody and swollen and Billy’s knuckles are cracked and bruised and Steve hit him first and Billy’s alive.

Steve gives him a little two finger salute at school the next week, little nod of acknowledgement, meets his eyes from across the parking lot and doesn’t look away. Billy feels like his feet are on the ground for the first time since Timmy’s bedroom back in LA, doesn’t feel like he’s going to scream or snap or wrap the Camaro around a tree just to make it stop.

Tommy’s got a lot of questions, and Billy doesn’t feel particularly inclined to answer any of them. He gets high as fuck in Tommy’s basement, touches the bruises on his knuckles, presses at the ones on his cheek. Steve looks fucked up. Billy fucked him up, and Steve is paying attention to him now. Not scared of him. Not avoiding him. Acknowledging him. Carol goes to use the bathroom and Tommy makes eyebrows at him like he always does when he wants to watch Carol suck him off and Billy’s too fucking high, from the weed and the fight, says why don’t you suck me off yourself, you fucking coward, and then Billy gets decked for the third time that week and can’t even say he didn’t deserve this one, laughs about it while blood seeps from his nose and then Tommy laughs too and when Carol comes back Tommy’s shaking his hand out and Billy’s bleeding and they’re both laughing so hard they’re in tears and Billy thinks maybe he could learn to survive, here. Maybe. 

Steve hangs around the locker room after practice and waits for it to clear out, for all the other boys to shower and get dressed and sling their bags over their shoulders and leave and Billy does too, because Steve does, and Billy’s got a need. Needs to get right in close to that flame again, feel the heat of it, let it burn the cold right out of him. Steve watches him, keeps meeting his eyes as he finds ways to drag it out, little excuses to wait around and not get on with it, keeps checking in, maybe, seeing if Billy is with him.

Steve strips his clothes off and doesn’t bother to turn his back when he catches Billy looking. Billy follows him into the shower, legs a little shaky, dick already half hard about it. Steve’s pretty, nothing like the boys he used to fuck back in California. Steve’s fire’s all wrapped up in pretty hair and pretty lips and pretty moles on his pretty skin, pretty little curves and soft places, and the contrast of it is fucking dizzying, makes Billy’s mouth water, makes his dick hard. Steve’s got pretty bruises on his pretty face and when he looks at Billy, lets Billy back him up against the tile and lets Billy see him and takes his hand and brings it up and kisses the knuckles that put those bruises there, Billy fucking breaks. They rut against each other, one of Steve’s legs hooked around his waist, Steve’s nails cutting marks in his shoulders, wet slip and Steve’s hitched little moans echoing off the walls.

He doesn’t know this boy, doesn’t know a fucking thing about him other than Steve sees him, and Steve is going to mean something. 

Steve kisses him after they come, puts his hands in Billy’s hair and kisses him like he’s allowed to, like he does it all the time, like he knows Billy and this kiss is one of a thousand before it, thousands still to come. It drags a noise out of Billy, up from the dark places, a broken little thing that he feeds to Steve and Steve just kisses him deeper, slips his tongue in his mouth like he’s mining for more. 

It’s the first time Billy’s ever felt out of control in a way that didn’t make him want to die.

He shoves Steve’s shoulders against the tile, lets the little noise he makes settle him, gets his hand on Steve’s throat and feels giddy at the way Steve looks at him, the way Steve licks his lips and meets his eyes and moves his hands down to Billy’s hips, lets Billy squeeze a little and doesn’t fight him, tips his chin up and a little to the side. 

Makes Billy feel powerful. Gives him that. 

‘You want this?’ Billy asks, needs Steve to tell him. Steve’s eye is black and his lip is split and he’s got a cut over his eyebrow and Billy’s got complimentary purple knuckles and a fire in him that won’t ever die.

‘Do you?’ Steve breathes, and Billy feels the vibrations in his palm.

Billy wants this more than he’s wanted anything in a long, long time. Steve’s different. Steve’s not a thing he can use to keep the darkness locked up, keep it at bay, keep it shoved down. Steve’s not dirty blowjobs on bathroom floors and filthy fucks to take the edge off before goes home to get the shit kicked out of him again.

He leans in, licks the taste of himself off Steve’s top lip, breathes in the breath that Steve breathes out, then tightens his fingers and holds them there until Steve’s chest heaves, until his eyes get a little wide. Steve keeps his hands on Billy’s hips, rubs at his hipbones with his thumbs. His body tries to breathe. Billy doesn’t let it.

He wonders if Steve would let him kill him. Almost did once before. Billy lets go, watches as Steve sucks in a breath, as the red drains out of his face. Then he kisses him, the gentlest press of his lips that he can manage.

‘Are you sure?’ Billy asks into his mouth, fingers loose around Steve’s throat.

Steve slides his hands back to Billy’s ass, grinds into him, dick half-hard again like he likes it, likes Billy choking the breath out of him, likes being pinned to the wall, likes putting his life in the hands of a boy who’s never shown the slightest regard for his well-being; has, in fact, demonstrated on multiple occasions his willingness to do him harm. 

‘I’m sure.’ 

‘You’re a fucking idiot.’ Billy kisses him until Steve moans into his mouth, until his dick is twitching between them again.

Billy’s high, so high, got that good shit clouding up his head, low haze of smoke hanging like fog in Tommy’s basement. Harrington’s slouched on the couch with his knees spread wide and a dumb fucking smile on his dumb fucking face and Carol is smirking like she knows something none of the rest of them do and Tommy’s loading another bowl and Billy feels as close to the way he felt falling into bed after a day on the ocean, muscles spent and skin still warm and tight from the sun and the salt as he ever has since coming to this shithole town.

Tommy’s got a little flush high on his cheeks and Billy wonders what the hell he’s thinking about, wonders if he wants to know. He can’t hold onto the thought for long because Harrington’s wrapping his pretty lips around the end of the pipe and sucking the smoke out of it, collapsing back into the couch and shutting his eyes and not breathing and holding the pipe out to Billy, waiting for him to take it, for him to put his mouth where Steve’s was. Billy takes it, fingers brushing Steve’s before Steve lets go, lets the smoke out, lets his hand drop back to his thigh. He opens his eyes and grins at Billy, eyes all red and lazy-squinty and Billy thinks about how easy it would be to shove him to the floor, shove his dick in his mouth. Wonders if he told Steve to get on his knees between Billy’s legs if he would do it. Thinks maybe he would.

Billy hits the pipe, breathes in until his lungs burn, holds it until he can’t hold it anymore, adds another cloud of smoke to the haze. He hands the pipe to Tommy and Tommy takes it and looks at him and raises his eyebrows and Billy’s high, but he’s not high enough to miss the meaning. Steve’s still looking at him, looking at Tommy looking at him, and then he’s laughing, bright and amused and a little shitty and it makes Billy smile. The weed’s good. Makes it harder to give a fuck. 

‘Tommy, jesus. Him too?’

Carol snickers. Tommy’s cheeks get a tiny bit pinker. Billy watches Steve, can’t stop. He’s very pretty. Carol’s apparently tasted his dick, too. 

‘Fuck you,’ Tommy says, and Steve laughs again.

‘We’re not doing that shit tonight,’ Steve says like he’s still in charge, and Billy’s smile gets a little wider.

‘Don’t remember asking you, Harrington,’ Tommy says, glaring.

Steve looks at him, and Billy looks back. One of Steve’s eyebrows goes up. Billy licks his lips.

‘You heard the man,’ Billy says, tearing his gaze away from the mouth he’d really like to get his dick in to look at Tommy, ‘not tonight.’ 

‘You’re both pussies,’ Tommy says, huffing a little and slouching back in his seat. Carol puts her hand on his knee. Billy doesn’t always get their whole thing, but he’s been alternatively fucking and fighting Steve Harrington for weeks that are starting to turn into months, bleeding out all his dark into him, using the flame in him to keep it at bay, to light up the blackest corners. He’s shown up to his house with fresh bruises and cried in his arms and clawed marks into his skin and woken Steve up out of screaming nightmares about things Steve won’t talk about. He’s in no position to judge.

He slides his foot across the floor, nudges Steve’s leg with his toes. ‘That true, Harrington? You a pussy?’

He doesn’t ask it in a mean way, asks it the same way he calls Steve a slut when Steve’s begging for a taste, same way he tells him he’s easy when Steve’s spilling over his fingers, same way he tells him he’s pretty when Steve’s lips are bitten all red and swollen and he’s got a hot red flush creeping down his neck. Same way he calls him dickhead after he kisses him, calls him an asshole after Steve makes him come harder than anyone ever has before. Steve’s smile gets a tiny bit softer, his eyes crinkle a little at the corners, amused. 

Tommy doesn’t know about them. Billy’s very fucking stoned. If Steve’s half as high as he is, they might very well blow this thing. 

‘You tell me, Billy,’ Steve says, kinda soft, too soft, maybe, saying Billy’s name like that, looking at him like that. He looks real good, half-gone already. The weed’s good

They’re definitely gonna blow this thing. 

‘I don’t think so. Don’t think you’re a pussy at all,’ Billy’s got an idea in his head now, a dangerous, stupid fucking idea that’s almost certainly gonna go horribly sideways, makes his heart race and his hands shake and his head spin and he’s gonna fucking do it, gonna say it, gonna set this ball rolling and see where it lands. ‘Tommy ever tell you about the time he decked me in the face?’ 

Steve licks his lips, shakes his head. Billy grins, lounges back in his seat, spreads his knees nice and wide. Looks at Tommy, looks at his glare. Puts his hand on his dick, just to be like that, just cause it’s a little hard, thinking about Steve’s mouth on him. Thinking about Steve’s mouth on him in front of all these people. He doesn’t know if Steve will do it. If Tommy and Carol will let him do it.

‘Told him he should stop being such a fucking coward and suck me off himself.’ 

Steve’s eyes go wide, and then he laughs, shocked and kinda thrilled, tips his head back and makes Billy’s teeth ache he wants to get them in him so bad. Carol is laughing too, and Tommy’s red to his ears.

It doesn’t have to be a thing. Boys do dumb shit all the time. They’re stoned as hell. Steve’s got plausible deniability. 

‘You didn’t,’ Steve says, looking at him, eyes a little watery with mirth. 

‘I did. Had a theory. Maybe our boy Tommy wanted a taste for himself, living vicariously or whatever. You ever think that, Harrington?’ Billy shifts his legs a little wider, and Steve’s eyes flick down, then back up. He licks his lips. Looks at Billy like he gets it.

‘Might’ve done.’ 

‘Fuck you both,’ Tommy says, but doesn’t deny it. Doesn’t even sound like he’s trying to deny it. Carol’s hand creeps higher up Tommy’s leg. 

Billy looks at him. ‘You trying to tell me it wouldn’t do more for you watching Steve suck me off than watching Carol? I call bullshit.’ 

‘Fuck,’ Steve breathes. Tommy’s mouth opens a little. Carol looks fucking delighted.

Billy looks back at Steve. ‘You’re not a pussy, are you, Harrington?’ 

Steve’s cheeks get a little pink. Billy can see the wheels turning, see him fighting with himself about it, the conflicting interests, conflicting desires. 

‘Steve, you’re not really-’ 

Steve holds his hand up, cuts Tommy off. ‘Shut the fuck up.’ 

He doesn’t look away from Billy, lets the moment drag on while he decides.

Then he slides off the couch and onto his knees, shuffles over and settles between Billy’s thighs.

‘Oh shit,’ Carol whispers. Yeah.

The rest of the world kind of goes away. Steve is looking up at him, hands on Billy’s thighs, and Billy feels like nothing in the world can touch him. Steve’s gonna do this. Got down on his knees on Tommy H’s dirty, stained carpet because Billy told him to. Gonna put his mouth on Billy’s dick while Tommy and Carol watch. People are going to see.

Steve is letting him do this. 

‘Get your dick out,’ Steve says, cheeks red as hell, fingers digging into Billy’s thighs. Billy feels the need to comfort him, to be gentle with him, just for a second. Let Steve know he’s not alone. He drags his thumb along Steve’s bottom lip, feels Steve’s sigh, watches his eyes slip shut, just for a moment. Tommy and Carol can’t see it with Steve’s back to them. 

Then he gets his dick out. Tommy swears. Steve squeezes Billy’s thighs. Billy tries to figure out how to get through this without giving away that it’s not the first time.

Dangerous. Stupid and dangerous and hot, christ. Steve shifts up, shifts a little closer. The look on his face makes Billy’s dick jerk in his hand; he looks a little checked out, eyes pretty glazed, cheeks flushed. He looks stoned, but it’s more than that, a different little edge to it, too, a separate kind of spacy softness. He’s only seen Steve look like this a couple times, like that time Billy smacked him across the face and made his nose bleed and then fucked Steve’s throat until he choked on it, and the time he bent Steve over the hood of his car and fucked him in the parking lot after a basketball game. Once when he made Steve hold onto his headboard and teased him for an hour before he let him come, called him all sorts of names and talked all sorts of shit while he played with Steve’s cock and his nipples and his ass until Steve begged. It’s the look Steve gets when it’s just a little too much for him to process, when it’s just a little too good for his head to cope with. Steve likes it. They’ve talked about it. 

And he’s there, now. Already. In Tommy H’s fucking basement. With an audience.

Dangerous. Stupid. Billy feels suddenly very protective. He puts his hand on the back of Steve’s neck and squeezes a little. ‘Well, come on then.’ 

Steve lets out a shuddering breath and lets Billy guide him down onto his dick. Steve seals his lips around him, works him with his tongue like he knows Billy likes, takes him down a lot deeper than he’d be able to if this was his first time with a dick in his mouth.

Carol and Tommy don’t seem to notice. In fact, Carol’s not even watching, shifted to the side, kissing Tommy’s neck and working him through his pants while Tommy watches, cheeks blotchy red, lips parted, panting. He blushes harder when their eyes connect and then he drops his gaze, looks at Steve instead. Billy cards his fingers through Steve’s hair, a little possessive.

‘Fuck, yeah, like that,’ he says, quiet, for Steve. Tommy moans. It makes Billy’s dick twitch. This whole thing is fucking wild, craziest thing he’s ever done. He’s so fucking stoned, room gone all sparkly-hazy around him, everything feeling a little surreal, whole body pleasantly heavy, blood buzzing. He presses a little at the back of Steve’s head the way he never did with Carol and Steve makes a little noise that vibrates through Billy’s dick and up into his belly, makes Billy’s fingers flex in his hair.

Billy bites his lip so hard he tastes blood, wants to call Steve baby, wants to tell him how fucking proud he is, wants to tell him he’s good, wants to tell him all the shit that gets Steve humping the air when he’s like this, gets him sucking sloppy and enthusiastic, dripping slick down Billy’s dick.

He watches Tommy watch him, watch Steve, watches Carol fondle his boner through his jeans, watches Tommy’s chest rise and fall with quick little breaths, watches him lick his lips. He’s not bad looking. Not really Billy’s type, but neither was Steve. Billy would have let him, that night. Would have let Tommy suck him off. He wonders if Tommy’s regretting it, now, not saying yes. Seeing Steve say yes, knowing he could have if he’d been braver, been a little more like Steve.

Billy’s whole chest feels so goddamn full, warm and big and tight like his ribs are gonna crack. Steve gets his hand around the base of Billy’s dick and jerks him off while he bobs on his cock, ready to get Billy done apparently, giving him exactly what he likes, exactly how he likes it. Billy gets both hands in his hair and pulls him up enough that Steve looks up at him, looks fucking wrecked with his pink lips stretched around Billy’s dick. Billy holds his hair, holds him still, digs his heels into the floor and fucks his hips up, hits Steve in the back of the throat and watches Steve’s eyes roll back in his head, feels the broken little moan in his dick more than he hears it.

‘Oh, fuck,’ Billy says, doesn’t give a shit if he gives them away, doesn’t give a shit about anything but the incredible boy with his incredible mouth doing incredible things to his dick, to his whole body, shit. ‘Oh, christ, baby, jesus fuck.’ 

It slips out, just slips out, a total accident, Steve sucking all the rational thought right out of him through his dick. Tommy groans and Carol swears and Steve whimpers around him, clutches at Billy’s thighs so hard it hurts and that just pushes Billy even closer, has him gripping Steve’s hair and snapping his hips all jagged and erratic, right fucking there, so goddamn close- 

Steve tightens his lips and sucks, hard, pulls up and up against Billy’s hold until his tongue and lips bump over the head, looks up at Billy, looks him in the eye, and opens his mouth, lets Billy see the head of it sitting on his tongue. 

‘Fuck,’ Billy whispers, and Steve goes back down, one last bob of his head, and Billy’s fucking done. Steve sucks him real sweet, pulls all of it out of him, holds him there until Billy’s done coming, then pulls off and tucks Billy back into his underwear.

‘Holy shit,’ Tommy says, but Billy can’t take his eyes off Steve, off the wet patch at the front of his jeans, at the way he hasn’t swallowed, sitting there with Billy’s come in his mouth. Steve plants his palms on Billy’s knees and leverages himself up, stands there between his thighs and looks down at him. Billy’s heart beats a little faster.

Then, Steve bends down, coaxes Billy’s mouth open with his thumb, and seals their mouths together just long enough to pass Billy’s fucking load back to him.

Jesus. Fuck.

Billy swallows it, taste of Steve and himself, clutches at Steve’s shirt while his stupid, stupid dick tries to get hard again. It’s filthy. Tommy and Carol fucking watched it happen. Watched all of it happen.

He wants to pull Steve into his lap, wants to kiss him breathless, wants to lick every last trace of his taste out of Steve’s beautiful, perfect mouth.

Steve presses his thumb to Billy’s lips, gives him a little smile. ‘Not a pussy.’

Billy wants to bite his thumb. Does. Just a little. ‘Definitely not a pussy.’

Steve turns and looks at Tommy over his shoulder. ‘You come?’

Tommy looks. Shocked. He nods. Carol smiles, leans in and kisses him below his ear. ‘That was. Uh.’

Billy scoots over on the couch, makes room for Steve, grabs his wrist and tugs him down. ‘Sit, Harrington. One of these assholes is gonna get you a beer.’ Steve stumbles a little and comes down almost half on top of him, shifts off to the side, thighs touching from hip to knee and Billy doesn’t want to let go of his wrist, so he doesn’t.

Carol presses a kiss to the side of Tommy's mouth, slides off his lap and heads upstairs.

‘I was fuckin’ right,’ Billy says, relaxing back into the cushion, feeling buzzy-great, high and humming with post-orgasm Steve-haze. He rubs at the inside of Steve’s wrist with his thumb, and Steve doesn’t pull away.

‘Just cause I think about it doesn’t mean I wanna do it,’ Tommy says, which is honestly a valid point. Billy can’t really relate, wants to do everything, all the time, try anything at least once, keep chasing new ways to feel human, get right down there in the dirt of it. Not everyone is like him. Like Steve.

Steve, who’s got his eyes closed and his head tipped back against the back of the couch, long line of his throat looking like it needs a couple new marks bitten into it. Billy’s eyes linger too long. He can’t help it.

‘Or maybe you’re just a pussy,’ Steve says, not bothering to open his eyes.

5

Then there are nights like this one, nights where Billy’s face hurts and his mouth tastes like iron and he’s got a lot of shit echoing in the pitch black of his head, piece of shit, fucking pussy, pansy queer, ungrateful disrespectful stupid faggot, got bloody little cuts on his palms from his nails, hands aching, nights where he doesn’t put on his seatbelt before he speeds to Steve’s, nights where the only thing keeping him on the road is knowing Max would be sad, that he’d leave Steve with all the dark, leave him holding it back on his own, where the tears make the road wobble while he fucking screams and smashes his fists into the steering wheel.

In California, he’d go downtown and pick a fight. He’d shove a boy who’s name he didn’t know into a wall and make him come. He’d paddle out into the waves and scream and stay underwater too long and think about it filling up his lungs, crushing him into nothing. 

He’s not in California. Steve opens the door and takes one look at Billy and understands, gets angry like he always does when Billy shows up looking like this, bruises on his cheeks that Steve didn’t put there like oxygen to his flame, making it lick up and burn bright. Billy’s fists are clenched at his sides and Steve’s fists are clenched at his sides and they’re gonna end this night bloody, and Billy’s so fucking grateful. 

‘What’d he say?’

‘Called me a faggot,’ Billy spits, lip busted already, ‘called me a fucking pussy.’

‘You a fucking pussy, Hargrove?’

Billy swings his fist and knocks Steve’s face to the side and Steve recovers and his teeth are red when he bares them at Billy. Billy’s knuckles throb dully, counterpoint to the throb in his cheekbone. Ache he put there himself.

‘What else?’

‘Told me what a piece of shit I am. Ungrateful pansy queer,’ Billy hisses. 

‘That true? You an ungrateful queer?’ Steve says, wiping the blood off his lips with the back of his hand. Billy grits his teeth. ‘You a pansy, Billy?’ 

Billy’s palms connect with Steve’s shoulders and he stumbles back a step before he catches his footing and Billy decks him again, same cheek as before, harder this time. Steve takes it, rolls with it and straightens back up and hits back, catches Billy across the chin.

When Billy swings for him again Steve ducks it, gets in close under his arms and rams his shoulder into Billy’s chest, knocks the air out of him. Billy grits his teeth and grabs a fistful of Steve’s hair and yanks him back and his knuckles make contact next to his eye and it makes Steve hiss and swear and stumble and Billy advances on him and Steve moves once he’s in close, clocks him good, right over the mark on his cheek and makes it his own, makes Billy swear, draw a charge, hits Steve across the face again for his trouble. Steve puts a hand out to catch himself on the wall to stay upright. 

Sometimes Billy finds Steve sitting out by his pool, real far-away look in his eyes while he spins a bat full of nails around and around and around, cigarette burning low between his fingers, ash real long like he forgot he was supposed to be smoking it. The first time he found him like that, Billy’d put his hand on Steve’s shoulder, real gentle, kinda cautious, and Steve had decked him, swung at him just like that, popped him across the cheek with a kind of animal fear in his eyes that had echoed familiar for Billy in way he fucking hated, hated that something had put that feeling in Steve. Steve’s eyes had gone wide afterward and he’d apologized while Billy tenderly touched his cheek. Happened again when Steve started whimpering in his sleep, gut-wrenching little cries that made Billy hurt for him, when Billy put his hands on Steve’s shoulders and said his name until his eyes snapped open, there but not.

Billy gets it. Sometimes he needs to fight. Sometimes Steve can’t help it.

Steve straightens up, looks at Billy, and Billy settles a little. His hands hurt. He’ll have a bruise on his chin from Steve’s fist. The sickening swirling rage and self-loathing and shame are still there, he still feels like he could just boil over, feels like he could scream, feels like breaking things, breaking everything, but Steve is steady and solid and real and standing there looking at him, studying him, reading his body and his face and Billy lets him, needs him to. 

‘Tell me what else.’

‘Same shit,’ Billy hears himself say, ‘didn’t raise a fucking faggot, you’re gonna learn respect, stupid pansy piece of shit,' it’s his voice but it sounds like Neil in his head and his hands shake, ‘shoved me into the wall, broke some shit, smacked me around,’ he lists it all off for Steve, check marks each shitty moment of it. 

Steve lets him fight back. Steve gives him that, lets him let all this shit out instead of keeping it boiling inside with nowhere to go. Billy doesn’t know what he looks like when he’s like this, doesn’t know if Steve can see all the shit in him on his face, in his eyes, but if he can it doesn’t seem to scare him.

‘But he did. He did raise a fucking faggot.’ 

Billy’s breath catches, stopped dead by that, chest twisting, and the fucking tears come again as his eyes slip shut. Steve’s seen this before. It hurts, but it hurts in a way that he needs. Hurts like pressing a bruise, not like getting hit. Healing hurt.

‘Fuck,’ Billy breathes, cracked and unsteady. He still doesn’t really know how to cope with this. With. Being seen. 

The way Steve says it doesn’t sound like the way Neil says it.

'You need more?’ Steve asks, kinda quiet. He’d do it. Let Billy take all this shit out on him, dump all this rage and fear and bullshit into his skin with his fists, make him hurt the way Billy hurts. He’d take that, for Billy. Hold it for him for a while, let Billy be unburdened, briefly.

Billy shakes his head, takes a deep, shuddering breath, and opens his eyes. ‘He did raise a fucking faggot.’ 

Steve looks at him, runs his tongue over his split bottom lip. ‘Yeah. Not a fucking pussy though. Not a stupid pansy piece of shit.’ 

Billy knows that the shit Neil says says more about Neil than it does about him. He knows that, in an abstract, disconnected sort of way. In a way that doesn’t make a goddamn bit of difference when Neil is smashing his head into the wall. Filthy faggot. Fucking queer.

It feels like fighting back to say it. Feels like fighting back to not hate himself for it.

‘C’mere,’ he says, and Steve comes, lets Billy put his arms around him, puts his arms around Billy, holds him tight. Billy doesn’t say thank you. Steve wouldn’t want to hear it. He puts his hand in Steve’s hair and tucks his face into his neck and kisses him just below his ear, gentle press of his lips. The last of all that dark recedes back into the deepest corners, here, like this, Steve solid and steady and strong wrapped around him, Steve like sunlight on a summer day.

6

Billy drives them out to the quarry, drives too fast, takes the corners too sharp, glances over at Steve in the passenger seat, window cracked, breeze kicking his hair around, head tipped back, soft little smile on his face. It makes Billy happy, which isn’t something he’s experienced a lot of since his mom left. 

It terrifies him. He spends a lot of time when Steve’s not around thinking about all the ways it could go wrong, all the ways he could lose him, all the ways he could drive him away. Steve’s seen more of him than anyone ever has and he’s still here, sitting in the passenger seat, grinning when Billy drives like he’s trying to kill them both, but Billy keeps waiting for the thing that’s gonna be the last thing, the thing that’s gonna finally be too much. 

He drives them lots of places, lets Steve lead him deep into the empty corners of this place, the quiet places where no one really bothers to go. Where Billy can touch him as much as he wants, however much he wants.

There’s no one at the quarry. Billy takes the Camaro up the service roads and parks up there, trees on one side, sheer cliff overlooking the water-filled basin on the other. Steve brings their hands up to his mouth and kisses Billy’s knuckles, like he always does, and then gets out of the car.

Billy lights a smoke, hot spark in his belly like there is every time Steve kisses the parts of him that hurt him like he loves them for it, then gets out. 

Steve’s standing a few feet from the edge, hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders drawn up, looking out. Billy’s momentarily awed by him, by how beautiful his silhouette is against the big mottled grey sky and the green woods and the huge mostly-empty expanse of Roane County stretching out as far as Billy can see.

His boots crunch a little in the dirt and gravel, and it’s the only sound he can hear. It was never this quiet in California, doesn’t remember it ever being this quiet anywhere at four in the afternoon. He wraps his arms around Steve’s waist and Steve relaxes back into him, his body fitting against Billy’s like it was always meant to be there. He pulls his hands out of his pockets and covers Billy’s, brings the one with the smoke in it up to his lips and steals a drag. 

‘Used to get drunk with Tommy and Carol up here,’ Steve says, and Billy wraps his free arm tighter around Steve’s waist. They don’t hang out with Tommy and Carol that much anymore. Steve’s got some other friends, and Billy’s got Steve, and it suits all of them just fine, really. Billy still gets stoned with them, sometimes, when Steve’s busy and he doesn’t want to be at home. Tommy doesn’t ask him to let Carol suck him off, and Billy probably wouldn’t let her if he did. 

‘Seems dangerous,’ Billy says, takes a pull of the smoke, blows it out above Steve’s head. Steve tips his head back against Billy’s shoulder and nods.

‘That part didn’t really bother me, to be honest.’

Billy smiles, presses it into Steve’s neck. ‘Course it didn’t.’

Dangerous kind of seems to be Steve’s thing. Billy isn’t a safe choice, isn’t an easy choice, but Steve keeps choosing him. Steve picks fights, gets himself into trouble, drinks too much and smokes too much and doesn’t sleep enough, except the times he sleeps too much. Billy’s caught smiles on him that hurt him to his core, make him ache. When Billy’s too in his head he can’t understand why Steve keeps choosing him, can’t understand why this magical mess of a boy keeps coming back, keeps letting someone like Billy take him apart just because he needs to see what’s on the inside.

‘You scared of heights?’ Steve asks him, twisting around to get his arms around Billy’s neck. Billy kisses his bottom lip, pulls it into his mouth a little, runs his tongue along it, and Steve’s fingers curl in his hair.

‘Don’t think so.’

Steve pecks him on the lips and pulls out of his arms, takes his hand and walks them to the edge, to the very edge.

It takes Billy’s breath away. Makes his heart race. Makes him grip Steve’s hand a little tighter, fucks with his balance. He can see Steve looking at him out of the corner of his eye, see him smiling a little. Steve’s toes are inches from the edge, inches away from a fall that would absolutely kill him, and he’s looking at Billy.

‘You sure?’ Steve asks, quietly, rubs his thumb over the back of his hand. Billy swallows, tears his eyes away from the stomach-churning drop-off and looks at Steve instead.

When Billy’s not too in his head, he understands that Steve lets Billy take him apart because Steve needs to see what’s on the inside too. Taking Steve apart takes Billy apart too, strips away all the bullshit they both put on themselves, all the shit neither of them know how to cope with otherwise. Steve needs to see Billy as much as he needs Billy to see him, and for the first time in the series of shit circumstances that his life has been, Billy’s willing to allow that to happen in its entirety.

Steve smiles at him, a little thing. 

‘Long drop,’ Billy says, taking the last drag of his smoke and flicking it out into the nothing.

‘Yeah. Be dead as soon as you hit the water.’

Billy glances back over the edge, and Steve grips his hand a little tighter. He wonders if anyone’s ever jumped before. Wonders how long it takes to fall that far. Wonders if they changed their mind on the way down, after it was too late.

‘And your dumb ass thought it was an okay idea to get drunk up here?’

Steve smiles, one of the ones that gets Billy in the gut. ‘Thought it was a great idea.’

Billy tugs on his hand until Steve comes, tucks himself into Billy’s side, lets go of his hand in favor of wrapping it around his waist. Billy gets his arm around Steve’s neck, kisses his temple, feels a lot steadier now that he’s got Steve pressed to him.

‘Sounds like a stupid fucking idea to me, Harrington.’

Steve slips his hand up Billy’s shirt, presses his cold fingers to Billy’s side, and Billy covers it with his free hand, slots his fingers between Steve’s.

‘Think you maybe wanna fuck me up tonight?’ Steve asks, like they’re talking about what to have for dinner and not about Billy making Steve lose himself for a little while.

‘You want me to?’

Billy’s relationship with control as a concept has always been a little skewed, a little obsessive, maybe more than a little unhealthy.

He carves it out at the edges of his life in whatever small ways he’s able to, finds little rebellions against the oppressive, stifling, toxic weight of his family, of his life, of the circumstances that have been thrust upon him and the ones he’s created for himself.

Steve lets Billy tie his wrists behind his back, lets him slap him across the face, lets him call him a little slut. Steve stands there lays there kneels there and looks at Billy with marks on his body that Billy put there and an overwhelming, crushing trust in his eyes and Billy wonders how Steve can let him have this, let himself have this. 

Steve doesn’t feel like another little rebellion. Steve feels like a revolution.

‘Yeah,’ Steve says, gets the skin over Billy’s hip between his finger and thumb and pinches until Billy hisses, then pinches a little harder. ‘Yeah, I want you to.’ 

‘Fuck,’ Billy breathes. It hurts. He doesn’t pull away.

He skated the edges of this in California, felt the first hints of it, built the foundations. Sex has always been an outlet, been a thing he could control, a thing he had dominion over, something his own. It’s always made him feel powerful, making boys come. Making them lose control.

Steve loses control harder than any of them ever did. Steve slips so deep into himself, so far outside of himself that sometimes he can’t find his way back on his own. Steve takes everything that he is, all his masks and his walls and his armor and strips them off, holds them out in his hands and offers them to Billy for safekeeping. He takes all his shame and fear and guilt and pain and pulls it up from the dark places in the center of him and he sets that aside too, even if it’s just for a little while. Steve goes under, and Billy holds onto him while he’s gone. Helps him find his way back.

Billy never feels more grounded than he does when Steve is looking at him like Billy’s the only thing in the world. It’s all the power he used to be able to squeeze out of a good fuck times a thousand, huge and intoxicating and so specifically what he needs that it steals his breath.

Steve lets go of his hip and Billy lets out a breath, but then Steve’s mouth is at his neck, lips sealed right over the tendon, sucking the skin between his teeth and biting down hard, relentless. Billy’s eyes slip shut as he tips his head, arm tightening around Steve’s neck. It only spurs Steve on, makes him bite harder, makes him moan a little, sending the vibrations right into Billy’s throat. 

Most things in Billy’s life have worked relentlessly to take this feeling away from him, to leave him shaken and full of doubt and fear, self-loathing and apathy and manic crackling fire that he can’t contain, leave him screaming and barely clinging to himself enough to function. He’s hurt people and he’s hurt himself and he’s destroyed every good thing that’s ever tried to happen to him and it all comes back to always feeling so out of control, to the compulsion to gather up whatever scraps of it he could find, even if the edges were jagged, even if they cut him.

And then, Steve. Steve came into this thing with a deep and seemingly instinctual understanding of what Billy needed, and has at every turn given him exactly that, greedily, hungrily, selfishly. Steve’s issues, and he has them, oh boy, manifest themselves in absolutely complimentary ways to Billy’s. Steve needs to not be in charge, needs to be able to trust someone else to keep him safe, keep him whole, make decisions for him every once in a while. Needs, deeply, to have it demonstrated to him that it’s okay to lean on someone else every once in a while, even if it’s brief and fleeting and temporary. Steve needs someone to show him that they want him, that he makes them feel something, that he means something to them, in whatever capacity. Sometimes, Steve needs to fight. Needs someone who can handle all his sharp edges, all the nasty rough shitty mean parts that Steve can’t always keep in check. 

Fuck, baby,’ Billy says, and Steve slides his hand farther up Billy’s shirt, takes his nipple this time around, pinches hard, makes Billy feel a little wobbly.

He remembers in that moment that they are a breath away from falling to their deaths. It makes his dick hard, for some fucked up reason. Probably the same kind of fucked up reason that Billy getting real rough with him, treating him like he doesn’t have a choice about it makes Steve’s dick hard. 

‘So?’ Steve asks, lips to Billy’s neck, gives his nipple a vicious twist. Billy’s knees don’t buckle, but it’s a near thing.

‘You know I’m not gonna say no to you, baby. You want me to fuck you up? You got it.’

Steve’s lips curve into a smile against his neck, and he presses a kiss to the hot achy bite mark he left there. ‘I want you to fuck me up.’

It’s fucking staggering. It’s unbelievable. Neil moved his faggot ass across the country to try to outrun the filth of it and found him the only boy on the planet who’s ever been able to give him what he really needs.

7

There, in the dark, the two of them curled around each other in Steve’s bed in his empty, quiet house, Billy gently rubbing at the red marks around Steve’s wrists, wrapped around him while Steve comes back, while his breathing evens out and his skin cools and the sweat dries and he starts to move his fingers, his hands, touches Billy for the first time in hours, Billy feels like maybe he could be okay, someday. Maybe someday he could learn how to be okay. Like maybe Steve is smoothing some things out in him, slotting them back into place, settling them. Sometimes he even thinks maybe he’s doing the same for Steve.

Steve’s bad nights don’t look like Billy’s. Steve’s bad nights look like Billy waking up at 3 in the morning and finding Steve sitting by the window, staring into his backyard, smoking a cigarette in the dark.

Steve’s parents aren’t home a lot of the time, and Billy can’t spend every night here. The nights are starting to get shorter and the days are starting to get warmer and Billy’s inching his way towards eighteen, towards graduation and freedom, but he’s not there yet, and he’s trying to be better. Trying not to give Neil any extra incentive to smack him around.

He doesn’t like thinking about the nights that Steve’s like this when Billy can’t be here, though. Makes him angry and achy and helpless. 

Steve is strong as hell, Billy’s seen it. Sees it every day. He doesn’t know what Steve’s demons look like, but he knows they’re there. Can see the shadow of them under Steve’s eyes more often than not, occasionally on his knuckles, sometimes on his chin or his cheekbone after he’s picked a fight he never had any intention of winning.

Billy slides out of bed and puts himself in between Steve’s knees and Steve looks up at him with tears in his eyes and this broken little smile on his face and Billy hurts. He puts his hand on Steve’s cheek and Steve closes his eyes and leans into it and Billy can feel wet of the tears on his fingertips and he wants to curl around Steve and protect him from whatever nightmares lurk in his dark, wants to keep all of that from him, shield him from it.

Steve gives him so much. Gives everyone so much.

He sinks down to his knees between Steve’s legs, runs his hands up and down his thighs. Steve takes a shaky breath, says his name, and Billy leans up and presses a kiss to his lips.

‘You know,’ Billy says, squeezing Steve’s thighs just above his knees, glancing out into Steve’s back yard, trying to see whatever it is out there that haunts him, see whatever Steve sees when he stares out there for hours and kills half a pack of smokes and a couple beers. There’s nothing, just the glittering blue of the pool and the grey of the concrete and the dark line of trees that crop up right at the edge of Steve’s yard where the lights from the house don’t reach. There’s nothing. He looks back at Steve, at the his red eyes, the way his bottom lip is bitten raw because Steve does that when he’s not thinking about it, at the dark circles under his eyes. He presses his lips to Steve’s again. ‘I think you might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me,’ he says, whispers into the space between their lips. Steve makes a noise like a sob and then his hand is in Billy’s hair and their foreheads are pressed together and Steve’s saying his name again. Billy shifts in close and wraps his arms around Steve’s waist. 

Steve clings, tight, tucks his face into Billy’s neck and cries. Billy holds him like that until long after his knees start to hurt, long after Steve’s cigarette burns out in the ashtray on the windowsill. 

He’d stay just like this all night if Steve needed him to. Least he can do, he figures. He doesn’t like to think about what his life would be like if Steve wasn’t in it. 

‘Thank you,’ Steve says, eventually, raw as hell, muffled against Billy’s neck. Steve kisses him real gentle, makes Billy feel warm. 

He pulls back enough to get his hands on Steve’s cheeks and look him in the eyes. He just stares, for a minute, stricken once again by how much Steve makes him feel. ‘You,’ he says, pauses to press his lips to Steve’s forehead, ‘are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’ 

Steve shuts his eyes. ‘Billy-’

‘Don’t fight me on this, baby. You won’t win.’

Steve laughs, a startled, cracked little thing. ‘God, I love you.’

It hits Billy like a truck, cracks his chest right open, makes him feel a little bit like he’s falling, doesn’t scare him the way he always kind of thought it might. It doesn’t make him want to run, doesn’t make his walls come up, doesn’t make him want to curl in on himself and insulate all the soft, vulnerable places. It just makes him feel. Warm. Here, in the dark with Steve, it just makes him feel safe. Held.

He strokes his thumbs over Steve’s cheekbones and sits with it for a second. A part of him still thinks Steve is an idiot for it, for choosing him, but most of him is just grateful. He leans in.

Steve whimpers into his mouth when Billy kisses him and tells him all the things with it that he can’t put into words. He pours every big emotion Steve makes him feel into it, hopes Steve hears him. Steve clutches at him, gives as good as he gets.

Of course Steve hears him. Of course he understands.

9

Billy and Steve sit next to each other at graduation, walk across the stage one after the other. If their knees touch, if their fingers find each other while they watch the stage, if Billy leans a little, presses his shoulder to Steve’s, no one notices. Or cares. Susan smiles at him, warm and relieved like maybe she won’t have to pretend not to notice Neil kicking the shit out of him anymore, and Neil nods, gives him a rough congratulatory handshake that makes Billy’s stomach coil with a mix of revulsion and dread and the tiniest sickest hint of pride that he kind of hates himself for. Max throws her arms around his waist and looks up at him, beaming, like she’s proud of him or something. He ruffles her hair, rolls his eyes at her. She insists that he come with her and her friends and Steve to the diner to celebrate. 

Steve gives him a private little smile when Billy finds his eyes from across the room.

Billy gets pretty drunk and maybe a little too handsy at the party that night, drinks whatever shit Tommy hands him and fills a solo cup with something he scoops up with a ladle out of a bowl in the kitchen and then ends up with a bottle of tequila in his hands, some real smooth shit, weaves through the mass of sweaty fucking bodies and finds Steve and gets his hands on him, is all over him in a way that’s really not subtle in the least.

Billy grins at him and Steve grins back and Billy lifts the bottle of tequila he’s adopted to Steve’s lips and Steve drinks, closes his eyes and makes a little noise and swallows swallows swallows. It’s hot. Steve is hot. Billy’s warm as hell and feeling fucking great and Steve’s licking expensive tequila off his lips and Billy, like, needs him. Steve’s eyes go a little dark and his lips quirk up at the corners in a way that suggests to Billy that Steve has an idea of what he’s thinking. Maybe Billy’s just drunk. Maybe he looks as fuckin eager and easy as he feels, knowing he’s done with high school and just about clear of his dad and that he’s eighteen and he’s got Steve and he’s free

Billy gets his fingers around Steve’s wrist and drags him down a hallway and presses him to the wall and gets in his space in a way that makes Steve lick his lips, makes his eyes go a little darker.

People could see, and Billy doesn’t fucking care. He’s drunk and he’s probably in love with this stupid boy and he doesn’t fucking care.

‘Wanna get my mouth on you,’ he says, pressing himself along Steve’s front, sloppy-slutty like he gets when he’s got some good tequila in him. Steve clutches at his hips and tips his head back when Billy mouths at his throat and moans a little. He smells like sweat and liquor and it makes Billy’s dick ache in his jeans. 

‘Here?’ Steve asks, like he’d fucking let him. Christ. 

‘No, you fucking moron. Like, the bathroom. First door we find with a lock on it.’ 

‘Yeah,’ Steve swallows, grinds his hips into Billy’s a little, ‘yeah, let’s.’

Billy drags him further down the hallway, miraculously finds a bathroom. He pushes Steve inside, closes the door and locks it and shoves Steve against it, kisses him dirty-deep and licks the tequila taste out of his mouth.

‘You’re so fucking hot,’ Billy says, sets his bottle on the counter and gets his hands up Steve’s shirt a little, kisses at his neck.

‘Jesus, Billy,’ Steve breathes. Billy can’t stop touching him everywhere, running his hands over him, hips plastered together, rocking a little. He’s in a fucking state, horny and a little overwhelmed and too drunk to have any control over it.

He could probably get off just like this, grinding against Steve, making out with him in the bathroom, feeling him up under his clothes, but he doesn’t want to. 

He used to go down on guys in club bathrooms. Occasionally hit his knees between the dumpsters in the alley out back. Steve’s not boring, never boring, sucked Billy off in front of their friends when this thing was still fresh as hell, not nearly as settled and solid as it is now. Lets Billy fuck him up, lets him tie him up and tease him until he cries, lets Billy beat his ass until it’s welted and purple, lets Billy push him until all he can do is take it, says fucking thank you afterward. Fucks Billy better than anyone ever has before. Eats him out afterward. 

Steve’s the fucking best. Billy licks his neck.

‘Man, what’s gotten into you tonight?’ Steve asks, fingers skating up Billy’s sides.

Billy grins, snags the tequila off the counter and wags it in front of Steve’s face, takes a swig of it, hums at the little fire it lights in his belly.

Steve licks his lips on a grin. A hot grin. A little mischievous. The kind of grin Billy usually sees right before Steve suggests they fuck in the boys room on lunch, or right before he shoves Billy back onto the bed and crawls on top of him and sits on his dick before Billy even has a chance to ask what the hell. 

Billy fucking loves that grin. He kisses it, puts the tequila back on the counter.

‘Thought you wanted to get your mouth on me?’ Steve says, and Billy’s dick throbs a little. Yeah. He really, really does.

Billy raises his eyebrows, licks his lips. Grins. Takes half a step back.

Waits.

‘Well?’ Steve says, leaning back like he’s in no hurry at all, like he couldn’t give a shit less whether Billy does or doesn’t. It makes Billy really fucking hot. Makes his stomach all twisty, makes his thighs tingle. Makes him want to get on his knees. Makes him really, really want to suck Steve’s dick. ‘Get to it, then.’ 

Billy just kind of. Drops. Like, physically, yeah, his knees hit the ground and his lips part and Steve’s clothed dick is right in front of his face and Billy pants on it like a bitch, shameless, yeah, but also, like, mentally. He slips, a little, a little sideways or backward or something, something about Steve getting a little bossy and authoritative with him, something about him acting like he doesn’t give a shit, like he’s doing Billy a favor by letting him do this resonating with him in a way that like, fucks him up. Good. Fucks him up real good.

He looks up at Steve and Steve raises his eyebrows. ‘You gonna fucking stare all night?’

Billy licks his lips. No. No he’s not. That seems like invitation enough to get his hands on him, so he pops the button on Steve’s jeans and drags the zipper down and yanks them down Steve’s thighs.

Steve’s dick is already pretty hard.

‘Fuck, Steve,’ he groans. He can smell it. His mouth waters. He wants to bury his face there, roll in it like a fucking dog, get Steve all over him. Steve’s dick twitches, close enough to Billy’s open mouth that he can probably feel his breath on it. Billy looks up at his face, at the flush in his cheeks, at his pink lips. ‘Want you to fuck my mouth.’ 

‘Shit, Billy,’ Steve says. His hands find Billy’s hair and it’s enough to make Billy groan, already. He feels fucking desperate for it. He doesn’t usually get like this, so fucking needy, eager. Seen Steve like this plenty of times, looking up at him with big eyes, licking his lips. Needing. 

Please,’ Billy says, grinds the heel of his hand into his dick through his jeans.

Steve yanks on his hair, and Billy gasps, whimpers a little, bolt of pleasure like lightning hitting him right in the gut. ‘Don’t.’

Okay. Billy takes his hand off his dick, real slow, and Steve’s grip eases in his hair, scratches at his scalp a little. Like a reward. Like approval.

Billy’s body fucking sings. His head goes a little quiet, hazy-good, drunk, but more. Better. Different. 

Fuck.

‘Steve,’ Billy gets out, sounds fucking wrecked. Feels wrecked.

Steve eyes go a little wide, a little dark. He licks his lips.

‘Oh. Shit, Billy.’ Steve’s hand is gentle in his hair, like he gets it. Like he sees

Billy wants his cock in his throat. Want Steve to fuck him with it until he cries.

‘Steve, please.' 

He wraps his fingers around Steve’s ankles and puts his cheek on Steve’s thigh and looks up at him and wonders if he looks as fucking desperate and gone and needy as he feels. Steve bites his lip, drags his fingers through his hair. His dick is harder, now. A little shiny at the tip. Within tasting distance of Billy’s mouth.

He could lean in, could take it. He doesn’t want to, though. Wants Steve to give it to him. 

This is. Different. Feels different. Billy is aware that normally he’d be the one looking down at Steve, here. Steve would be the one on his knees looking all checked out and easy and open. Steve would be the one begging and Billy’d be the one looking down at him, all sharp-edged affection, soft smile with too many teeth right before he fucking choked him on his dick. 

He’s thought about this. Thought about what it would be like. Thought that he would ask Steve for it, someday. That if he was going to let anyone see him like this, if he was going to trust anyone with this, if he was going to let go enough to get here with anyone, it would be Steve. That he’d like to do that. Like to show him. Like Steve to show him. 

He’s got a choice, here. He could pull back, not far gone enough that he couldn’t haul himself out of it, if he wanted to.

It wouldn’t take that much to fold to it, either, though. 

He licks his lips, closes his eyes and presses a kiss to Steve’s thigh, lets out a shuddering breath and digs his thumbs into Steve’s ankles. ‘Steve. Please.’ 

Steve doesn’t ask him if he’s sure. Doesn’t slow it down and make Billy talk about it. Steve knows better than that. Knows him better than that. 

What Steve does is give his jaw one more touch, tip his chin back up until Billy looks at him, so fucking tender that it makes Billy whimper. Then he tightens his fist in Billy’s hair, wraps his free hand around the base of his dick, and slides the whole fucking thing into Billy’s mouth.

Billy moans, hot hit of pleasure zipping down his spine, hitting him in the gut, lighting up his skin like fireworks. 

‘Oh, christ,’ Steve breathes. He lets go of his dick and gets both hands in Billy’s hair, holds tight, holds him still, pulls his hips back and then rocks all the way forward again until Billy’s nose hits pubes and his eyes water. Billy doesn’t think about anything but this, doesn’t think about his aching dick or the fifty drunk teenagers on the other side of the door Steve is leaning against.

He feels fucking incredible, hot and echoey and buzzing, a closed-circuit feedback loop of sensation. It’s too much to process and he doesn’t bother to try, doesn’t feel the need to, lets the experience of it move him like waves or riptides or like, whatever. He can’t fucking think. Steve gets a kind of rhythm going, deep but a little slow, a little gentle at first. The head of his cock hits the back of Billy’s throat on the really good thrusts, doesn’t make Billy gag, not with the number of times he’s done this, but. It could. If Steve wanted to, if Steve let it, it could. 

Billy can’t keep the spit and precome in his mouth with Steve fucking him like this, with his head all fucked up like this, with how little he gives a shit about trying not to spill it, and when the first glob of it slips out his mouth and down his chin he moans, long and low, and Steve swears, pulls his head back so he can see, and Billy looks up at him, steals a glance. 

Steve’s lips are all red, parted, his cheeks are flushed, his eyes are wide and dark and he looks like he wants to eat Billy alive, like he wants to fuck him up, like Billy suspects he must look when he’s got Steve moaning around his dick, probably. He wants more. Wants to see what that looks like, Steve fucking him up. His fingers tighten around Steve’s ankles, and he pulls back, pulls against Steve’s hold in his hair until Steve’s dick slips from his mouth, licks the spit and slick from his lips. 

It’s harder than it should be, trying to get the words out. Takes him a try or two. 

‘You’re,’ he swallows, tries again, ‘you’re holding back.’ 

Steve doesn’t say anything. Licks his lips. His cock is shiny and red and Billy wants it back in his mouth, like, now. 

‘Don’t. I can take it.’

Billy leans forward, ducks until he can get his lips back around Steve’s cock and suck it down, sits there and looks up at him and sucks on it real gentle and waits. He doesn’t want to suck Steve’s dick. He wants Steve to make him fucking choke on it.

Steve lets out a breath, grabs the bottle of tequila off the counter and takes a swig. ‘Yeah you can.’ He sets the bottle down again, puts his hand back in Billy’s hair. Gets his fists tight in it until it stings, harder than before.

Then he drags Billy down, pushes his hips forward until there’s no more for Billy to take, until his face is smashed into Steve’s belly and his dick is deep, and just fucking. Holds him there. Until Billy gags, until his body screams at him to fight, to breathe, and that just makes Steve fucking moan above him, which makes Billy’s idiot cock throb, and Steve just grinds his hips and pulls his hair harder when Billy tries to pull back. He’s whimpering, he can hear it in his own head, muffled by Steve’s dick. His hands never leave Steve’s ankles. Steve doesn’t relent. Keeps him there, tears slipping down his cheeks, trying desperately to swallow around Steve’s dick, body fucking screaming for oxygen. 

It’s fucking phenomenal

Billy slips. His body goes slack. His eyes roll back in his head. Steve’s gonna fucking kill him on his dick and it’s so goddamn good, so exactly what he needs that he doesn’t even care. Would beg for it. 

Billy’s vision starts to tunnel a little, and then Steve’s dick is gone and he’s gasping, head spinning, chest rattling. Tears on his cheeks. Before he can even get a full breath, Steve’s back in his mouth, fucking him for real this time. Fucking his mouth like it’s his ass, rough and hard, sharp deep snaps of his hips that Billy just fucking takes, whimpers and cries and clutches at Steve’s ankles with spit and slick all down his chin, down his neck, all floaty-gone, drunk-stupid. 

Billy’s deep in it, everything hazy, and Steve’s making all these incredible noises, saying his name.

‘Baby, god,’ Steve breathes, in it too now, getting real worked up if the way his thrusts have gone a little shallower, the way he just stays deep, doesn’t really pull out much before fucking back in are anything to go by, ‘you’re so. You’re so fucking good, oh my god.’ 

And man, the praise fucking gets him, makes him work for it a little, makes him suck, try in whatever sloppy-gone way he can to incorporate some fucking skill into this thing instead of just sitting there and taking what Steve’s giving him. It makes Steve swear, makes his hips stutter. 

‘You should fucking see yourself, baby, jesus. You’re. Fuck, Billy.’ 

Hearing Steve say his name like that knocks him down another peg and Steve yanks him down and snaps his hips forward and makes Billy choke, makes some fresh tears slip out of his eyes and Billy thinks he might fucking come just like this if Steve doesn’t finish soon. Doesn’t know how much more of this he can take before it just breaks and overwhelms him and makes him cream his pants.

He flushes hot, and Steve fucks him good. 

He’s getting close, Steve, clutching at Billy’s hair and leaking like crazy as the head of his dick drags over Billy’s tongue. He wants it, wants Steve to fill his mouth and then fuck what he can’t swallow out until it runs down his chin. Wants to lick it off Steve’s dick like it’s a fucking popsicle.

It makes him groan, long and, like, exceptionally slutty, even for him. Steve swears, fingers going real tight, sinking real deep, takes these quick little breaths while his dick twitches and swells and then. Yeah.

Steve makes the hottest, most incredible little noises while he fills Billy’s mouth and all Billy can do is moan, fucking float away in the taste of it, the rush of it, the hit of satisfaction and pride and power as Steve slips all uncoordinated through the mess in his mouth and holds onto his hair like it’s the only thing keeping him on his feet. 

He lets Billy keep mouthing at him, swallowing everything he can get his tongue on until he’s mostly soft again before pulling back, half-laughing in that shaky, shuddery, fucked out hysterical way he gets sometimes when Billy doesn’t stop jacking him off after he comes. Billy loves that sound.

He licks some of the mess off his lips and looks up at Steve. His whole body is tingling.

He doesn’t want this to be over yet.

‘Steve-’ he gets out, sounds. Fucking wrecked.

Steve cups his jaw, runs his thumb through the mess on his chin and then slides it into Billy’s mouth. ‘You are so fucking good.’ 

Billy shivers.

‘You wanna come?’

He doesn’t have an answer to that. He doesn’t want anything but more of this, whatever this is. He whimpers a little around Steve’s thumb, looks up at him, hopes Steve fucking understands

Steve gives him this soft little smile, tender as hell, all affection, and Billy gets a little hotter. ‘Damn, baby. You’re really... you really like this, huh?’ 

Billy gets his hand around Steve’s wrist, somehow, pulls until Steve’s thumb pops out of his mouth and then kisses the pad of it.

‘Yeah, I think you can wait a while,’ Steve says, leaning down and tipping Billy’s chin up and licking up some of the mess from under his bottom lip before kissing the taste of it back into his mouth. ‘Think maybe I wanna keep you like this a while. How’s that sound? Wanna get out of here?’ 

Billy nods. He doesn’t know how the fuck he’s gonna get out of this house like this, how he’s gonna even make it up off his knees, but if Steve thinks they can pull it off they can probably pull it off. 

‘Gonna need you to use your words, baby.’ 

Billy licks his lips. Licks the taste of Steve off of them. He’s a fucking mess. ‘I can wait.’ 

Steve grins, big and bright like he’s proud, or happy, or both. ‘Hey, there he is.’ 

There he is not, not really.

‘Do you think you can stand?’ Steve asks, soft. Affection and relief roll over Billy in a warm wave. Steve gets it, of course he does. Knows exactly how Billy’s feeling, exactly what kind of crazy shit his body is doing right now, all endorphins, fucking ODing on them right here on his knees with Steve’s come and his own spit drying sticky on his face. With his dick still hard as steel in his jeans. 

He shakes his head.

‘Alright,’ Steve says, puts his hands out, and Billy takes them, lets Steve pull him up and gets wobbly legs under himself. Steve puts his arm around Billy’s waist, guides him over to the sink. ‘I’ve gotta let go, just for a second. You can’t go out there like this.’ 

Billy braces his hands on the counter on either side of the sink, steals a glance at himself in the mirror.

Fuck,’ he breathes. He looks fucking wrecked. Barely recognizes himself. He doesn’t look too long, not ashamed or anything, just. Overwhelmed. He looks as gone as he feels. Then Steve’s in the mirror next to him, curling around him, kissing his temple, his cheek, next to his eye. 

‘You look fucking hot.’ 

He’s, like, not entirely wrong. Steve turns the water on and gets the washcloth in his hand wet and meticulously and gently cleans the mess from his chin, from his neck. Billy shuts his eyes and tries to make everything stop spinning enough that he’ll be able to walk himself out of here.

‘Hey,’ Steve says, real soft, and Billy hears the wet sound of the washcloth dropping into the sink. Billy nods. ‘Billy, you did so fucking good. You’re doing so fucking good. You’re- christ. I wouldn’t be able to do this. No way in hell would I be on my feet right now if you worked me over like that. You’re incredible.’ 

Billy takes a shaky breath. He’s had to pick Steve up and carry him bridal style to the bathtub and scrub all the mess off him while Steve sat there boneless and quiet, and Steve. Steve’s got practice. ‘Do you-’ Billy starts, feels himself blush, a tiny little sliver of doubt spark inexplicably in his belly. ‘Did you like it?’ 

‘Oh, hey, Billy,’ Steve says, very soft. He puts one arm around Billy’s waist and kind of presses himself to Billy’s side, puts his free hand on his cheek and Billy lets himself be moved, lets Steve turn his head. ‘Look at me, okay? Open your eyes.’ Billy opens his eyes, would do whatever Steve told him to, still, no questions. He’s still fucking gone. ‘I like it. I. We can talk about it more later, okay? But I like it. I love it. Holy shit, I love you so fucking much, Billy. You’re so fucking hot, and just, amazing, oh my god. Like I will sit here and gush about you for a fucking hour if you let me, don’t fucking let me, christ.’ 

It makes Billy happy. Makes him smile. Snuffs that doubt right the fuck out. ‘You could get me the hell out of here and show me, instead.’

Steve grins, beaming, like fucking sunshine. ‘There he is. Yeah, alright. If anyone asks, you had way too much fucking tequila and I’ve been saving your mullet from the toilet water.’

‘You’re a dick,’ Billy says, wraps his arm around Steve’s shoulders when Steve pulls at it, feels a hell of a lot steadier when Steve puts an arm around his waist. 

Then Steve bites his earlobe, and he stumbles a little, hot kick of lust in his belly puts him right back in it. Reminds him how on he still is. ‘Holy shit.’ 

Steve was ready for it, holds him up. ‘You should be nicer if you wanna come tonight.’

It makes him flush hot, the thought of that. He’d let Steve, too. Let him make him go to bed like this. It’s heady as hell. Steve’s. Really good at this.

‘Come on, then,’ Steve says, and steers them toward the door. ‘You ready?’

‘Not even a little bit,’ Billy says truthfully.

Steve kisses his neck, real sweet. ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got you.’

10 

Later, after Steve sinks into his ass and sits like that, sits on his heels with Billy’s knees over his thighs while he jerks him off slow as hell, not moving in him the way Billy wants him to, incredibly, beautifully, achingly frustrating, brings him up and up and up until he’s a breath away from coming and then pulling back, over and over, until Billy’s slick with sweat and has tears leaking steady from the corners of his eyes, until everything else goes away, until he’s just Steve’s fingers around his dick and Steve’s dick twitching buried deep in his ass, after Steve finally finally lets him come and it cracks him wide open, breaks him in half, has him shooting his brain and every single rational thought he’s ever had out of his dick and all over his chest and Steve and Steve’s pillows and maybe some on his wall, who the fuck knows, after Steve kisses him and kisses him and holds him and lets him cry it out and cleans the come off him and pulls the blanket over them both and wraps himself around Billy so tight that Billy feels like he’s physically holding him together, after, when it’s quiet and Steve’s kissed the last of the tears from his cheeks and he’s getting back in his body, settling back into his limbs, feeling more alive and more human and more real and more seen than he ever has before in his life, he puts his shaky love-stupid hands on Steve’s cheeks and looks him in his beautiful brown eyes and tells him he loves him, he loves him, he loves him. 

11 

Summer descends thick and hot and sticky on Hawkins. Billy spends most days at the pool, flirting with the moms and keeping the shithead kids from drowning themselves or each other. He gives swimming lessons. Doesn’t quite know how he ended up agreeing to it, grumbles about having a hoard of three- and four-year-old's hanging off him while he tries to get them doggy-paddling, but it makes him feel good. Makes him smile in spite of himself. They’re cute. He’s helpless. It makes him proud as hell to see them paddling around the shallow end with their water wings on, not drowning because of him. 

He spends his evenings at Steve’s more often than not, sipping the top-shelf liquor that Steve shamelessly steals from his dad by the pool and licking the salty sweet sweat and ice cream taste off every inch of Steve’s body. He hangs out with Max on the days off he doesn’t share with Steve. He’s building something, here. Got a plan. Got a foundation.

He still aches for the coast, feels like a square peg in a round hole in this barren flat dead place, but the sunlight helps. Steve helps. Max too, with all her fire. It helps. Keeps the cold from his bones, drives back the dark. He won’t leave until he can take them with him. If Max stays, he stays. He’s bored, sometimes, bored by the way nothing in this town ever seems to happen, how all the little shops on main closing and that shiny new mall where Steve works opening appear to be the most thrilling thing that’s happened to Hawkins since its inception. He’s heard whispers, rumors about some shit that went down before he got here, but according to everyone it all sounds a lot weirder than it actually was. Kid got lost in the woods. Another kid ran away. It’s Hawkins fucking Indiana, Billy can’t blame them. Tommy tells him that that was around the time Steve went soft, started sporting dark circles under his eyes and a prude girlfriend.

Steve doesn’t talk about it. Billy doesn’t ask him to. They don’t need to examine each other’s bullshit under a microscope to know how to be there for each other.

When the fucking shadow comes out of the dark and makes him crash his car, his first thought is that Neil is going to be pissed

12

He hopes Steve forgives him, someday. He doesn’t know how long it’s been since the last time he saw him, spoke to him, touched his heat, kissed his smile. He misses him, aches for him. Thinks he would give fucking anything for one more minute with him. He hopes Steve knows. He hopes he leaves, runs far the fuck away from him, that he never sees this. That he saves himself from whatever apocalyptic nightmare Billy is about to bring down on this town.  

13

The first thing he notices is the pain. They’ve got him sedated, medicated, whoever they are, his body is heavy and his mind is sluggish and everything is blurred around the edges, but the pain is there, bright and real underneath all of that.

He hears a noise. Thinks maybe he made it.

‘Holy shit,’ he hears, a little muffled like he’s got water in his ears or something. He knows that voice, his body responding to it like touching a live wire. Hot zing in the middle of him.

He opens his eyes. It feels like moving mountains.

Steve looks like shit. His face is busted all to hell, he’s got one eye swollen mostly shut and a nasty split in his bottom lip. He’s the most beautiful fucking thing Billy’s ever seen in his life.

He unsticks his tongue from the roof of his mouth. It tastes like copper and chemicals. ‘Steve.’

And Steve, Steve fucking breaks. Billy watches it happen, chest throbbing with it. His face crumples and he squeezes Billy’s hand with both of his and puts his forehead down on the bed while his back heaves with it, sobs into the sheets of Billy’s bed.

Billy tugs on his hands with all the strength he can muster. ‘Come-’ he swallows, his mouth is so fucking dry, ‘come on.’ 

Steve picks his face up and looks at Billy and if Billy weren’t so fucking high he’d probably cry too. Steve looks ragged as hell. Exhausted. Terrified. ‘You died.’ 

Billy has vague recollections of that. Didn’t take, apparently. He remembers wanting it. Praying to a god he’d long stopped believing in for it. 

He doesn’t tell Steve that. ‘You look like hell.’

Steve stares at him. ‘Billy.’

He smacks his tongue again, trying to get a little fucking moisture in his mouth. Could use a drink. ‘When was the last time you slept?’

Billy -’

God, he’s fucking frustrating. Billy missed him so much he could scream. Steve’s right there, and it’s not enough. Billy needs. The rest of it can wait. It can all wait. 

‘I’m not dead. There will be plenty of time for you to explain to me how in the fuck that’s the case after you get up here and take a goddamn nap.’ 

It takes a second - a stunned, silent second where Steve just stares at him. Then the corners of his chapped, cracked lips turn up, and his eyes go all soft and crinkly, and yeah. Billy’s alive. He’s not a good enough person to see that shit in his afterlife. 

‘Okay,’ Steve says, and climbs very gently onto the bed next to him.

Steve’s body is warm and solid and real next to him, his hands hot around Billy’s. Billy can’t stop staring at him. ‘I missed you so fucking much.’ 

Fuck, Billy,’ Steve whispers. He blinks a few times, real quick. Billy can’t imagine what Steve went through, what it was like for him. He doesn’t have the energy for it, eyes burning, eyelids heavy, body quiet and aching and exhausted.

He squeezes Steve’s hand, tips his head and kisses the first part of Steve he can get his lips on, just above his eyebrow. Steve makes a noise that kinda breaks his heart.

‘Not dead,’ Billy says. Steve sucks in a breath, clutches his hand. ‘I’m right here.’ 

14

Things kind of blur, for a while. They move him. They do tests. He only sleeps when they knock his ass out, can’t manage it for more than a few minutes otherwise. They check his wounds and change his bandages and make him get up and walk and Billy lets Steve help him, lets Steve glare at him and put his arm around his waist and manhandle him out of bed while Billy bitches and feels too helpless, angry and weak but alone in his head, at least. Alone in his body. Everything hurts. Everything is harder than it was before.

They don’t let Steve stay all the time. Sometimes they take him somewhere else, put little wires on his head and his chest and his back and set a can of Coke in front of him and tell him to move it, to crush it, to toss against the wall. Sometimes Billy slips too deep in his head and watches his hands tying Heather up and strangling El and smacking Max and all the other worse things he did to people he cared less about and he hasn’t figured out how to find his way out of it, yet, just kinda stays down there in the dark panicking and hating himself and being so fucking sick about it that he wants to claw his skin off until someone comes and sedates him or drags him out of it.

Sometimes, when he slips, it’s not even about what he did to other people. There’s a second, sometimes, when he’s falling asleep or waking up where he doesn’t have control of his body, where he’s awake but not, there but not there, and it fucks him up so badly when it happens that he can’t speak for hours after, sends him spiraling into the most vivid flashbacks, has him seeing inky shadows out of the corner of his eye and tearing at his sleeves and the bandages on his belly and his chest looking for any trace of black, has him feeling the cold, slimy slide of dark inside his skull, makes bile rise in his throat, leaves him shivering and shaking and sweating through his clothes.

Sometimes he screams himself conscious, disoriented, semi-sedated, caught in fever dreams where he pulls Max out of the trunk of his car and drags her down the metal stairs and watches the shadow take her, where he watches Steve walk down the stairs with a blank look on his face and dissolve into pink jelly, where he watches the light go out of El’s eyes while he crushes her throat in his fist.

The first time he pops Steve across the face, re-blackens his eye because Steve tried to pull him back, Billy locks himself in the bathroom and screams at Steve to fuck off until his voice is hoarse. He listens to Steve wiggle the doorknob and tell him to open the door and catches a look at himself in the mirror and thinks about putting his fucking fist through it, watching it shatter into the sink. Steve doesn’t leave. Billy hears him lean himself against the door and sink down and then Steve’s fingers slide under the door and Steve tells him he’s not fucking leaving, but that he’ll give Billy an hour to come out on his own before he picks the lock. Billy lets him in. Shoves him against the wall, presses his thumb to the purple under Steve’s eye while Steve stares him down and doesn’t even flinch. He tells Steve that he’s an idiot. Tells him he should just fucking go. Tells him all the shit that Steve should have fucking known from the beginning, from the first time Billy shoved him to the ground and left him there.

Then, before Billy knows what’s going on, Steve’s got him pressed to the wall, glaring, right up in his face. Furious. Not scared, not even a little bit.

‘Now you listen, you fucking asshole. I’m not leaving you. You don’t scare me. You need to fucking fight? Fight, then. You need to scream? Scream. You need to shove me around and tell me to fuck off and tell me how much of an idiot I am for loving you, for sticking around, fine. I know you’re an asshole. Fell in love with you anyway. That hasn’t changed, and you can’t make it. You forget about all those times Neil roughed you up and you came to my place and picked a fight? I know this Billy, and he doesn’t fucking scare me.’ 

And Billy shoves him, hard, knocks Steve back half a step mostly because Steve lets him. Steve plants his feet these days. ‘Maybe he fucking should.’ 

‘Yeah, maybe,’ Steve says, shoving him back against the wall, getting Billy’s chin in his hand, holding him like that. It settles him, a little, Steve caging him in, holding him still, being a little rough with him. It’s surprising, the way it relaxes him. He lets out a breath, lets Steve’s grip move him a little, back of his head against the wall, chin tipped up just a hair. ‘But he doesn’t.’ 

Billy lets his eyes slip shut, licks his lips, nods as much as he can with Steve holding him in place. ‘This isn’t like before. It’s different. This isn’t my dad beating the shit out of me. You gotta know that.’ 

Steve’s lips ghost over his, barely there. They haven’t really done this, since. Billy hasn’t tasted Steve in weeks, and he’s suddenly aching with it, mouth watering, head spinning, everything bright and sharp and real. Billy feels himself taking up every inch of space in his body, feels his need like the midday sun on an August day, hot and blinding, washing out all the shadows, relentless. 

‘I know,’ Steve says, and Billy can feel his breath against his lips. His legs shake. He’s not at a hundred percent, body still healing, still weak and wobbly and hurt and ugly. ‘Not my first rodeo, believe it or not.’ 

Billy looks at Steve, at the dark circle under the eye that’s not black from Billy’s fist. ‘Yeah, we’re gonna talk about what the fuck that means for sure, but if you don’t kiss me right fucking now I’m gonna knock your teeth out, you got me?’ 

So Steve kisses him. Isn’t careful about it. Licks into his mouth and lets Billy bite at his lip and laces their fingers together and presses his hands to the wall and makes Billy’s stomach flip, makes him make little noises. Billy squeezes Steve’s hands but doesn’t pull free like he knows he could, if he wanted to, drowns in Steve’s weight pressing his body against the wall, Steve’s heat warming his fucking bones. 

Steve pulls away, gives his hands a squeeze, chews at his bottom lip a little. ‘Not leaving you. Okay?’ 

Billy nods. ‘Try to steer clear of my fists, alright? Don’t like roughing that pretty face up unless you ask me to.’ 

Steve’s smile is sudden and private and beautiful, and the way he ducks his head and drops his eyes and presses his smile to Billy’s shoulder makes Billy fall in love with him all over again.

15

He doesn’t go back to Neil’s house. He doesn’t know what Max tells them about him, what the doctors and scientists did, doesn’t really care that much, got bigger things to think about and worry about and care about. Like the monster in the freezer behind the Byers’ house that Steve tells him about, the tunnels under the town, the reason he sits at his window and stares into his back yard and the reason he has a bat with nails in it by his bed. Like the panic attacks. Like the little dissociative episodes. Like the fact that he still has a hard time looking at himself in the mirror without seeing the sneering snarling strange version of himself that still haunts his dreams. Like his withering body and the wounds on his chest and the fact that he can’t get up Steve’s stairs without losing his breath. Like the weakness and helplessness and guilt that make him hate himself.

Like Steve looking at him all fucking haunted and pale and guilty. Like Billy’s a little broken, and like it’s Steve’s fault. 

He doesn’t think that knowing would have prevented any of this happening, but he knows Steve does, can see it in Steve’s body whenever Steve doesn’t think he’s looking. Steve sleeps even less than Billy does, sits by the window and smokes and drinks after Billy falls asleep.

It makes him angry. Angry at Steve, a little, angry at himself and angry at the world and angry at nothing, at everything.

It’s the stupidest fucking thing that does it. Billy’s putting away dishes in Steve’s kitchen and the stack of bowls isn’t heavy, really, wouldn’t have been, before, but they go on the top shelf and reaching that high pulls at the new skin on his side and he can’t work out because he had a collapsed lung and a bunch of other shit he’s sick of hearing about and it’s harder than it should be, makes him wince a little, and Steve, fucking Steve is right there, hand on Billy’s arm, trying to take over and Billy just fucking. Snaps.

He shoves the dishes onto the top shelf and rounds on Steve and shoves, him, hard. Hard enough that Steve does stumble this time, for real, catches himself against the island in the middle of the kitchen and looks at Billy, kind of stunned. A little hurt.

Fuck him.

‘Fuck you,’ Billy snarls. ‘Fuck you, Harrington. I’m not made of glass and I’m not broken and I’m not a fucking invalid, I can goddamn well put away the dishes by myself. I don’t need your guilt and I don’t need your pity and I don’t fucking want it.’ 

Steve’s pretty mouth opens, and Billy wants to fucking punch it. Make it bleed. ‘Billy, I-’ 

‘No, you’re gonna shut the fuck up and you’re gonna listen.’ Steve’s mouth closes. ‘I didn’t die so I could come back and get treated like this. Used to know this kid, real fucking asshole, talked a lot of shit, liked to pick fights, had a real fucking fire in him.’ Billy advances a step, puts his hands on the counter on either side of Steve’s body, cages him in. ‘Used to like it when I roughed him up. Used to like roughing me up. Used to push, act like a real fucking brat. Never apologized. Never explained himself. Haven’t seen him around in a while, and I could really, really use him right now.’ 

Steve’s eyes close, eyebrows knitting. He swallows, and his voice cracks on Billy’s name. Billy takes his chin. 

‘Look at me,’ Billy says, and Steve looks, ‘this isn’t your fault. This is not your fault. I know you think it is, that you could have stopped it, but you couldn’t. I need you to come back now, okay? I need you to get your ass back here and be with me.’ 

‘I don’t know what to do,’ Steve says, like a plea.

‘Stop treating me like I’m gonna shatter if you touch me. Stop treating me like I’m gonna cry if you talk to me. I’m not fine, but I’m still here. And you’re not responsible, you didn’t do this to me. Do you understand?’ 

Steve nods. Billy doesn’t buy it. 

‘You’re not helping, you know. This, fucking, babying me or whatever? It's not helping. You remember when I was in the hospital, like, borderline catatonic and they wanted me to walk and I just wanted to die and you glared and talked shit and physically hauled my ass out of bed and made me walk? That helped. I need my fucking boyfriend back. Tell me how to get him back.’ 

Steve puts his hands on Billy’s hips, doesn’t look him in the eye. ‘I watched you die, you know. I like. I held your fucking body. I was covered in your blood and that black shit that was oozing out of you and you were so heavy and, like, just. Gone. There’s a difference. It wasn’t like you being unconscious, I’ve held you unconscious before, this was. It was different. And I spent all those fucking months, Billy, with you, and I had so many chances. There were so many nights when you woke up and found me staring out at where Barb died that I could have told you, that I could have explained why I have that bat, I could have explained what Max was doing at Jonathan’s that night, I could have told you why I was there with a bunch of kids and everything looked insane, but I didn’t. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to drag you into it, because you’ve got enough shit to deal with and I didn’t want to add this to it and I thought, I hoped, that somehow it was over and you’d be able to skate by, just this once, that when we were far enough away from it I could tell you, show you, when it’d been long enough that it was just a story and not like, an imminent fucking threat, and now here we are, and I just, I just can’t help but wonder what might have happened if I’d told you. Would you have come to me that first day? Would you have been able to tell Max and El what was going on? Would we have been able to help you, if you’d known to ask? I know that it’s not my fault it chose you, Billy, I’m not stupid. I just wonder if I could have spared you any of this. Any of it at all. You’re strong as hell and you won but I see the nightmares, I see the way you won’t look in the mirror, I see how much effort it is for you to get out of bed half the time and I hate that I might have been able to shield you from that and I fucking didn’t.’ 

And Billy needs to sit with that for a second. He slides his hands up Steve’s arms and over his shoulders and laces his fingers behind Steve’s neck, looks down, closes his eyes. He doesn’t know either. Maybe it would have helped. Maybe- 

He takes a deep breath. Puts his forehead to Steve’s. ‘You remember Heather. We worked at the pool together. She was the first one I uh. Took, or whatever. That first day. I was in control, I wasn’t okay, I knew I wasn’t, but I was in control, and she asked if I was okay, if she should get help, and then I wasn’t in control anymore. And I tied her up and I put her in the trunk of my car and I drove her to the steelworks and I carried her downstairs and I watched as whatever had me took her too. She died, Steve. She’s gone. So maybe you would have been able to help me. Or maybe I would have killed you too.’ 

Steve’s fingers dig into his sides. Billy doesn’t talk about what he did, not really. Everyone knows the broad strokes. He doesn’t think they need to suffer the details. ‘That wasn’t you, you know.’ 

‘That’s really not the point, baby.’

Steve wraps his arms fully around Billy’s waist, pulls him in until they’re flush together. ‘I hate this.’ 

Billy lets out a breath, a shaky half-laugh. It’s so. Reductive. Simple. ‘Me too. God, me too, Steve. We were doing so fucking good.’ 

Steve tucks his face into Billy’s neck, kisses him there, his jaw, his ear. ‘Yeah we were. And now we’re all fucked up. Again.’ 

Billy pulls back enough to look at him. ‘Been fucked up before, though. Always been pretty fucked up, actually. We’re resilient as hell. Like fucking cockroaches.’ 

Steve smiles in spite of himself, like he can’t really help it. ‘You think we come back from this?’ 

Billy nods, glances down at Steve’s mouth and then kisses him. ‘I think so. But I need you with me, you know. Like, for real. Not this... whatever this is. If you’re fucked up, let’s work it out. Don’t like, dote on me like I’m not capable of doing it myself. I gotta be able to do it myself.’ 

Steve lets out a breath, closes his eyes and nods. ‘Feel like I’m crawling out of my skin half the time, Billy. Like I need. Like I should be fighting, but there’s nothing- like I want it. Like I want you to fucking show up at my house in the middle of the night and deck me and make me fight you and make me lose, like before, like. It’s fucked up, but-’ 

Billy kisses him again, kisses him pretty fucking thoroughly, moves his hands up into Steve’s hair and pulls until he whimpers. He knows the feeling. He knows this Steve. This feels like progress. 

‘You know you’d win right now,’ he says, lips just a breath from Steve’s, ‘but there’s shit we could do. There are alternatives. You know there are. If that’s what you need, I can do that. I can make that happen.’ 

‘Are you sure? If I like. If we do that, you know what’s gonna happen. I’m gonna like... you know how I get. Is that okay?’ 

There’s nothing in the world that he loves more than making Steve feel so good his eyes go all glassy and his whole body goes all pink and he forgets how to speak, but Steve also might have a point. He doesn’t know how he’ll handle having that much power over him, if it’ll trigger anything in him. Weird shit does it. Thunder. The smell of bleach. Chocolate chip cookies.

Tying Steve up and making him cry could do it. Maybe. Only one way to find out. 

‘You always come back if I need you to,’ Billy says. He’s willing to try. He wants to try. What little sex they’ve had since everything happened has been so fucking vanilla, so tender and soft and it’s not bad, it’s great, Steve’s hands on him in any capacity is enough to make him want to cry with joy and like, relief, but man, he misses the other stuff. ‘I want to. Kinda feel like maybe I need it as much as you do.’ 

Steve swears quietly, tightens his arms around Billy a little. ‘Okay. Okay, yeah. Yes. But not tonight, alright? We’re going for a run.’ 

That sends a hot zing of something close to panic down Billy’s spine, maybe fury. Maybe both. He puts his hands on Steve’s shoulders and shoves him back enough to glare at him. ‘The fuck we are, you know-’ 

‘Doctors cleared you for light cardio a week ago. We’re going running. Or, I’m going running. You can sit here and wheeze your way up the stairs and get fat if you want.’ 

‘Running isn’t light cardio, you fucking genius.’

‘Jogging, then. With plenty of walking breaks. You really gonna sit here and pretend like you’re fine with the fact that I could kick your ass right now?’

‘You’re a dick,’ Billy says, but something warm and bright and huge lights him all up on the inside. This feels right.

‘Whatever, baby, I know you love it. I’ll even suck your sweaty dick when we get back, if you want.’ 

It makes Billy flush, the offhand way he says it, just throwing gross shit like that out there like that when Billy doesn’t see it coming. Billy hasn’t had gross sex with Steve in, like, months. It fucking gets him right in the gut. ‘You’re a nasty bitch, Harrington.’ 

‘So you don’t want me to suck your sweaty dick then?’ 

‘I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that at all.’ 

Steve grins, shows Billy his teeth, ducks forward and sucks Billy’s bottom lip into his mouth real quick, nips it on the way back. ‘Well alright, then.’ 

16

Billy fidgets. He’s constantly moving, clicking pens, bouncing his knee, tucking his thumbnail under the nail of his index finger and pressing, then his middle finger, then his ring finger, pinkie, back again when he can’t bounce up onto the balls of his feet, when he can’t tap his toes. He chews at his lips, pulls at the little bits of skin there, bites them raw, just like Steve does. It used to drive Billy batty, couldn’t understand why Steve couldn’t leave them alone. Now he gets it. He buys a handful of little tubes of chapstick one day at the drugstore and makes Steve carry one in his pocket, puts one in his own. Self-care. 

He can’t be still. It terrifies him, makes his heart race, makes his palms sweat, his ears ring, his vision start to tunnel if it gets bad. Gotta be moving. Gotta be sure he can. So he fidgets.

Billy has never in his life been more aware of his body. It’s different than it was, aches in places it never used to. One of his shoulders is a little bum, now, twinges if he moves it wrong. He’s got a knee that crackles a little if he goes up and down the stairs too many times in a day, or he pushes him and Steve’s jogs a little further than he probably should. The months of recovery stole a lot of his bulk, softened his belly and shrunk his thighs a little. He’s got scars, now, big ones all over his torso, some smaller ones on his arms, a faint little one on his cheek below his eye, and the new skin is smooth and strange and Billy can feel it’s newness when he stretches his arms above his head, when it pulls like it didn’t before. It doesn’t hurt, not anymore, and Billy can’t help touching them, sometimes, looking at them in the mirror and tracing the edges of them, running his fingers over them, their dimpled centers.

He died. Steve’s told him about it, recounted every detail with a real far-away look in his eyes like he was watching it happen all over again, cigarette dangling between his fingers, forgotten.

He feels different, too. Needs things differently than he needed them before. It’s not just that his body is different, it’s that the way he inhabits it has changed. He’s always chased sensation, needed to experience things, needed to throw himself fully and recklessly at the experience of his humanity, needed to inhabit his flesh with an intentionality and urgency that he later concluded that not everyone felt, but it’s different, now that he’s had his agency so completely taken from him. He doesn’t hate his body for being his prison, then, but he does feel a certain need to reclaim it. To inhabit it completely, take up every inch of space in it, to take up space in the world as himself and only himself.

He spent a lot of time in his life taking up space in the wrong ways, and for the wrong reasons. He doesn’t have the energy for that, anymore, doesn’t have the need for it like he used to. 

Steve’s right there in it with him, down in the dirt of it, doing the work, fighting his own fights. It’s messy. When Billy’s feeling particularly healthy and grounded and well-adjusted, in those brief and fleeting moments of transcendent clarity that he gets every once in a while, he realizes that those moments just before he died were a gift that Steve never got. Billy got to take his power back. Got to be in it, just for a second, for the first time in his life. The price for it was steep as hell, and Billy’s pretty sure he’s gonna be paying it off for the rest of his life, but he got it, for what it’s worth. Steve just got to watch him die, wondering if he could have prevented it. 

Steve’s healing doesn’t always look like Billy’s. He has a hard time asking for things anymore, can’t or won’t name his needs or wants or whims, won’t pursue them. Has a hard time asking Billy for things, tells him one night while they smoke cigarettes in Steve’s bed, both awake again after an hour or two of broken sleep that he doesn’t feel like he deserves it. Like he doesn’t think he deserves to ask things of Billy. Like he doesn’t think he deserves to want things or need things, especially from Billy. Especially not now. It makes Billy’s chest hurt, and it makes him furious, and it makes him want to smack Steve upside the head and scream at him and tell him how fucking stupid he is. 

He doesn’t do that. He takes Steve’s hand in the dark. Then he makes Steve ask for things.

Robin has told him everything Steve did in the days leading up to Starcourt. He knows that he put himself between an entire lab of Russian soldiers and scientists and Dustin and Erica. He knows he put his body between the rest of them and harm to the absolute best of his ability. He knows Steve stopped him from killing a lot of people. He knows Steve tried to save his life.

When it comes down to it, Steve saved his life. The only thing he doesn’t deserve is to feel the way he feels. 

It takes a few weeks, takes a long time. They fight more than a few times about it. Steve is frustrated, thinks Billy’s being an asshole, making him ask for everything he wants, everything he needs, but Billy thinks it’s progress. Steve yells at him. Steve ignores him and slams doors and apologizes and then yells and sulks some more. He rails about it, bitches about how stupid it is, how pointless. Billy lets it rile him, sometimes, because Steve needs that too. Because this is the most alive he’s seen Steve since before, and it’s fixing him too. They break shit. They shove each other around. They lose the thread of it, sometimes, forget the point. Billy always remembers when he see the fight go out of Steve, sees his lip shake and the way he won’t meet Billy’s eyes.

Steve doesn’t have shit to be ashamed of. Doesn’t have anything to feel guilty about.

They get to the core of it, one night, pull the whole thing down, smash it to pieces on the floor so they can build something new. Steve is angry, and Billy’s feeding off it the way he always does, the feedback between them as loud as ever, Steve’s pain and rage and helplessness and guilt bleeding out and swirling around between them but for once it doesn’t feel like a wall, feels like something Billy can get his hands in, make some sense of, pull something real out of.

Tell me,’ Billy says, a pace away from Steve, who’s shaking, furious, a breath away from snapping. Billy doesn’t really know how they got here, just that Steve’s been on edge for a day or two, now, has been letting this shit simmer and build, and that Billy’s been feeding it, trying to draw it out. 

Billy wants to see it. Wants him to snap. Needs it as much as Steve needs it. 

‘Tell me, you fucking pussy. Tell me what you need, fuck. You wanna fight? You wanna hit me? You wanna fucking roll over and die? Just fucking say it.’ 

‘Fuck you,’ Steve snaps, closes half the distance between them, and Billy feels the hit of adrenaline light up his blood. It’s better than drugs. ‘You walk around acting like you know what’s best for me, like you’ve got some fucking right to just do this shit, to fucking, fucking train me like some sort of pet, to just do this shit, make me do shit, like-’ 

Billy shoves him, just one hand on his shoulder, pulls his lips back in a sneer. ‘Yeah, well, someone’s gotta fucking do something, Harrington. You’re certainly not going to. Never do anything, just sit there and let me. Don’t think you get to bitch about it if you’re not gonna fucking do anything about it.’ 

He shoves Steve again, for emphasis. Steve smacks his hand away, hard, shoves him back. On fire. ‘I didn’t sign up for this shit, Billy.’ 

‘And you think I did?’ Billy says, getting right pissed, now, cause fuck that, honestly. Steve’s not just talking about Billy making him ask for the shit he needs. ‘You think I wanted to get possessed by a fucking shadow horror from some alternate dimension under your shitty stupid town? You think I wanted to come back to find my fucking boyfriend so goddamn broken about it I barely even recognize him sometimes? Neither of us signed up for this shit, baby, but here we are.’ 

Steve looks like Billy smacked him, and Billy thinks belatedly that maybe he should have. Then Steve glares. Fury and fire. Gets in Billy’s space. ‘That’s not fucking fair.’ 

Fucking finally. ‘Life’s not fair, you stupid piece of shit,’ Billy gestures at nothing, at everything, at himself and Steve and all the shit Steve won’t say in the air around them, ‘get used to it or do something about it.’ 

Steve hits him. Billy’s not expecting it. If the look on Steve’s face is anything to go by, he isn’t either; it’s shock, for a second, and then it hardens. Billy’s body sings with it. He touches his lip, looks at the blood on his fingertips, then looks back at Steve. ‘What else? Come on, baby. Tell me.’ 

‘It’s not fair,’ Steve says, knuckles white, hands curled into fists, ‘it’s not fair and I fucking hate myself for letting it happen.’ 

‘You didn’t.’ 

‘God, will you just shut the fuck up for five seconds? This is what you wanted, let me fucking finish.’ 

Billy doesn’t say anything. Steve’s close enough that Billy can feel the heat of him, feel the way he’s still shaking. Steve lays his hands on Billy’s hips, looks down at them. ‘I’m not, actually. Stupid. I know what you’re doing with this shit, I know what you’re trying to do. I know how you feel about it, about me and what happened and all that shit. I know you think it’s not my fault. I know you don’t, can’t understand why I feel like it is.’ Billy has thoughts about that. He understands why. He just thinks it’s stupid. He doesn’t tell Steve that. ‘I. I can’t help but wonder why the hell you stick around, Billy. You gotta know, you know me well enough to know that I don’t really like myself all that much, sometimes. Can’t fucking fathom why you do. Especially since all that shit. I know it’s not, like, rational. I couldn’t have stopped anything. Did as much as I could, once I knew. But I still can’t sleep at night thinking how I let everyone down. How I let you down. The look on Max’s face when she watched you die. The way El cried. The. How it felt. Like I was just... empty. Gutted. Like I wanted to die too, and how much I hated myself for it because it’s not what you would have wanted but how I wanted it anyway, so fucking badly. How I wanted to trade places with you, wished I could. So you wanna know what I need. I think. I think I need you to forgive me.’ 

Billy’s eyes sting and his heart breaks and he wraps his arms around Steve, puts a hand in his hair, kisses his temple. There’s nothing to forgive, but that’s not gonna help Steve. ‘I do. I do, baby. I forgive you.’ 

Steve takes a shuddering breath, slides his arms around Billy’s waist, holds tight

‘For all of it. I forgive you. I. I think you need to forgive you.’ 

‘How?’ Steve asks, voice cracked and raw.

‘I don’t know. You tried, right? You tried. You tried to save me and you tried to protect everyone and you tried to do everything right, just like I tried to save everyone, tried to stop myself from running everyone over, tried to stop myself from hitting Max. From strangling El. From killing all those people. We tried, right?’ 

‘Yeah,’ Steve says into Billy’s neck, ‘yeah. I tried. I promise, Billy, if I would have known I wouldn’t have stopped until you were okay, until that thing was out of you. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to do. I never know what to do.’ 

Billy squeezes him tight, holds on so tight. ‘I don’t think I ever thanked you for running into me that night. I. I would have killed all of them. You spared me that. Saved them. Maybe you didn’t stop everything, but you stopped that, and honestly, Steve, I was so fucking grateful. I’m so fucking grateful. We tried, you and I. Did the best we could. So... maybe we’re letting the dark win if we sit here and let it ruin us, still. Maybe that’s what we should be sorry for. I forgive you for not telling me. Neither of us knows what it would have changed, if I’d known, but you’ve more than made up for it. You’ve gotta forgive yourself, now.’ 

‘Have you? Forgiven yourself?’ 

It’s a cold draft on his skin, that. ‘No.’ It’s less often, now, the crushing, horrifying weight of what he did, what his hands did. He knows intellectually that it’s not his fault, not really. It’s also more complicated than that. He can’t help but ask himself, sometimes, when the nights are the darkest and quietest and coldest, if maybe that shadow chose him for a reason. If maybe there was something about him that made him particularly capable of hosting that kind of dark. The others all disintegrated under the weight of it. Billy can’t help but ask himself why he didn’t. ‘No, I haven’t. Not... not completely, and not all the time. It’s not like, an action, you know? Forgiving. It’s a, uh. A process. It comes and goes. Some days are worse than others, you know that. You just. You have a lot of bad days, baby. I can see that you’re hurting and. I. I can’t stand here and watch it happen and not. Try.’ 

Steve pulls back, looks at him, finally. ‘Oh. Shit.’ 

Billy smiles, just a little. Tiny little thing. ‘I miss you. I know you’re not okay, neither of us is okay. I just. I miss you. I miss you.’ He puts his hands on Steve’s cheeks and kisses him. ‘We’ve got this thing in between us keeping us at arms-length and I fucking hate it, Steve. I want you. All of you. I want you to let me see it. Okay? Quit hiding from me, baby.’ 

‘Sorry,’ Steve says, and Billy strokes his thumbs over Steve’s cheeks. ‘I’m just. Pretty fucked up, Billy. Have been for a long time. Was fucked up about all this before I met you, but then I met you. And then I lost you.’ 

‘I’m right here, baby. Right here in the shit. With you. Down in dirt, right there in the fucked up with you, okay? You didn’t lose me.’ 

He needs to be with Steve, needs Steve in this with him. Needs them to pull each other apart and see all the fucked up jagged pieces and love them for it and put each other back together stronger like they did before.

‘You’re right. You’re still here. God, why is this so much harder than it used to be? I want. I want-’ 

It occurs to Billy, then, that they never got around to getting Steve sorted the last time this shit came up. Steve asked, and then it got lost. Got set aside, like it wasn’t important. 

‘Fuck. Fuck, baby. Wow, I’m an idiot.’

‘Stop. No you’re not.’ 

‘I really, really am. Been too wrapped up in my own shit to realize that I’m just as fucking responsible for this shit, aren’t I? How many times have you tried to tell me, huh? How many times has my addled fucking brain failed to pick up on it? I hear you now, alright? I hear you.’ 

Steve lets out a breath, pupils a little blown. ‘We don’t have to. If you don’t want to, if, if you can’t- we don’t have to.’ 

‘Oh, bullshit. We do too. You don’t need me to tell you, baby, you need me to show you. Right?’ 

Steve drops his eyes, bites his lip. Billy snaps his fingers, soft, next to Steve’s ear. Steve’s eyes flick back up, automatic. His breath catches. ‘I need. I need...’ 

‘Tell me.’ 

Help,’ Steve says, like it hurts him, but also like setting down a heavy load. He looks exhausted, but his eyes are bright. He looks more alive than he has in months. 

17 

They don’t talk about it before. They never did before and Billy’s pretty sure it wouldn’t work now, pretty sure they don’t need it.

Billy’s not even actually aware that it’s happening until it’s already well underway. Steve’s good like that, waits until Billy’s having a good day, until he’s in the right frame of mind and then just gets it going. 

‘You know, a couple more months of this and you might be able to beat me at arm wrestling again,’ Steve says, lounging under the window with a half-burned joint in his fingers, watching Billy do his bicep curls with the weights he made Steve haul up from the garage. Billy glares at him, takes a pull on the cigarette between his lips, squints to keep the smoke out of his eyes. 

‘Could beat you now.’

They’ve been doing better. Both of them. Been steadily climbing out of the shit, one step at a time.

‘Sure you could, baby,’ Steve says, indulgent little smile on his face. It really gets Billy’s fucking goat, that too-sweet patronizing shit. He knows that’s why Steve does it. Doesn’t make it any less effective.

‘Yeah? You gonna be a fucking brat? Get your pretty ass over here and let me prove it to you.'

Billy can see the grin building before Steve gives it up and lets it happen, slow and wide and a little mischievous.

It hits kinda hard, out of nowhere, hot rush of feeling like he hasn’t really had since before. He hasn’t seen that look on Steve in months. 

Billy sets down the dumbell. ‘Not gonna ask you twice, baby.’ 

Billy catches the way Steve’s hand kinda twitches on the way to the ashtray, the way his breath catches. Sees it when Steve’s tongue darts out, wets his lips. ‘Don’t recall you asking me a first time.’ 

Steve’s giving him plenty of opportunity to turn this ship around, if he wants to. If he’s not ready, if today isn’t the day.

Fuck that. Steve’s waited long enough. They’ve waited long enough. Billy feels the same sort of heady rush he used to feel when Steve would let him fuck him up, put him out of his head for a little while. 

He’s not the same person that used to get on his knees and suck boys off in the bathroom at punk shows. He’s not even the same person that made Steve suck him off in front of Tommy and Carol.

He’s also not not that person. 

‘You’re not a pussy, are you, Harrington?’ 

That’s all it takes. Steve’s halfway under already, just like that. He put the joint out, smashes it out in the ashtray. Then he crawls across the floor until he’s right up between Billy’s knees. ‘You tell me.’ 

Billy gets distracted for a second by Steve’s lips, by the way his pupils are blown wide, tiny little ring of brown around black. 

Then he gets his fist in Steve’s hair, yanks his head back and to the side and seals his lips over the tendon in his neck, sucks and bites, really sinks his teeth in. 

‘Fuck,’ Steve whimpers, jerking, fingers clutching at Billy’s knees.

‘I don't think so,’ Billy says, licks up the shell of Steve’s ear, ‘I don’t think you’re a pussy at all.’

He takes the lobe of Steve’s ear between his teeth, just holds it there and runs his tongue over it, sucks a little while Steve trembles, takes hitched little breaths.

They’ve been doing better, but there’s still something a little off, something not lined up quite right. They fight, and they fuck, and it doesn’t feel hollow or shallow or any of that, not at all, but this, they’ve been missing this. The thing that made this so intoxicating from day one was the way they fit together, the way they could push and pull and feel powerful and out of control and safe and crazy all at once, and it’s been a while since they got there, since they let go and leaned in enough to do it.

Steve not wanting to ask, not wanting to ask too much, Billy not sure if he could give Steve what he needed, not wanting to know if the answer was no.

Here, in this moment, little whine building in Steve’s throat while he looks at him all glassy-eyed and gorgeous, Billy’s not nervous at all.

This isn’t gonna fuck him up. This isn’t gonna make him fall apart. He’s not made of glass, and neither is Steve. All those cracks and chips don’t mean they’re broken.

‘Take your pants off,’ Billy says, kinda yanks Steve back as he lets go of his hair, throws his balance off.

Steve fumbles with his buttons, hands real shaky. It makes Billy’s head spin a little, makes him all light and bubbly and a little giddy, got his stomach twisting pleasantly. Steve shoves them down, gets out of them, looks up at Billy all questioningly and Billy just raises his eyebrows, drinks in the pink it lights up on Steve’s cheeks while Steve pushes his underwear down too, tosses them to the side. 

Billy lets himself look, shameless as hell. Steve gets off on it, anyway. His dick’s getting hard already, just from Billy handling him like that, getting his teeth in him.

He leans back on his hands, looks Steve up and down. Lets him squirm a little. Steve’s nipples are hard under his shirt, his dick filling in by the second.

‘You’re so fuckin’ easy,’ Billy says, grinning about it, real pleased. Steve’s fucking hot. And like. Amazing.

Steve’s cheeks go a little pinker, and he glares. Good. ‘You gonna sit there and stare and talk shit all night?’

Billy raises his eyebrows. ‘Maybe I fucking am. What are you gonna do about it?’

Steve’s dick twitches, and Billy’s grin widens. Steve clenches his jaw, doesn’t say anything.

‘Yeah, that’s what I thought.’

Steve looks buzzy and electric and like he’s wound a little too tight, like he might snap. Billy’s not sure where this is gonna go, but he’s sure it’s gonna be good.

‘You’re gonna sit there and blush and let me talk shit and you’re gonna get hard about it, gonna do what I say anyway, aren’t you?’

‘Billy-’ Steve says, warning, like maybe he’s not gonna do that after all. Like maybe this time he actually is gonna do something about it. It sends a hot spark of adrenaline through him, makes him feel all bubbly in his spine, in his teeth.

Winds him up. He picks his foot up, pushes Steve with it, right in the middle of his chest. Watches it knock the breath out of him, watches it light a fire in him. Billy just grins, easy, like Steve’s not even a threat.

Then Steve’s up and on him, knocking him back, sitting on his hips, fingers wrapped around his wrists, pressing them into the bed. Pressing him to the bed. Pinning him. 

It’s a bold move. Dangerous. Coulda gone another way, coulda knocked Billy right back into the dark. Steve’s a stupid, brave little shit. Billy’s missed the hell out of him. 

It just makes him hard. Like, really fucking hard, really fast. Makes his head spin, his breath hitch. He’s not made of glass, and Steve’s not treating him like he is. Reckless. Trusting.

It gets him hot. Takes this thing up a notch.

Steve’s breathing fast, looking down at him with his lips parted, all fire. 

‘Well, well, well. Would you look at that,’ Billy says, licks his lips, ‘got some fight in you after all.’ 

Steve lets go of his wrists long enough to strip his shirt off, and Billy slides his hands up his bare thighs, kneading a little. Steve snatches his wrists again after he tosses the shirt to the side, stretches their arms out above his head and holds him down. Billy’s heart thuds in his chest, wild and dizzying.

‘Not a pussy,’ Steve says, and Billy cranes his head up, nips at Steve’s chin. Steve tips his head, captures Billy’s lips, kisses him like he’s trying to crawl inside him. Billy moans into it, lets himself get a little lost in it, just for a second.

He was making a point, or something. Steve was talking shit, and Billy was reminding him how he could still fuck him up. Right.

He uses Steve’s distraction, his cockiness against him, leverages his weight and yanks one hand free and flips them, gets Steve on his back. Gets his hand around Steve’s throat. Squeezes a little.

Steve’s eyes go a wide, and he reaches for Billy’s wrist. Billy snatches his hand outta the air, slams it into the bed next to his head, squeezes his neck a little harder, feels it when Steve sucks in a breath under his fingers.

‘No.’

Steve licks his lips. His eyes go dark. Billy leans down, licks his top lip, looks into his eyes.

Steve’s intoxicating. After everything, after all of it, Steve still wants this. Maybe wants it more now than he did before. It’s different, a little different, doesn’t go down quite as easy as he did before. Makes Billy feel like he needs to work for it a little bit. Makes Billy want to work for it. 

He lets go of Steve’s wrist, eases up on his throat for just a second, lets Steve take a big, shaky breath, then tightens again, harder than before. Slides two fingers into Steve’s mouth.

Steve’s eyes slip shut and he moans around Billy’s fingers, sucks at them a little desperately. Billy squeezes his chin a little with the fingers that aren’t in his mouth and Steve makes this shaky little whimpering noise that hits Billy right in the gut, has arousal and giddy excitement zipping through the core of him, through his nerves.

Billy pushes his palm up and in a little until Steve has to tip his chin up a little to accommodate it, pushes his fingers a little deeper into his mouth.

‘Look at me,’ he says, and Steve makes a choked little noise and does it, opens his eyes.

Looks fucking gone. It’s a rush. It’s. It’s fucking liberating, is what it is. He’s got this, got Steve by the throat, got him all easy and pliant and under him, under, and he doesn’t have a single shred of doubt about it. He feels solid and full up, feels secure in his skin, rooted in this.

In his power. Back.

‘Fuck,’ he says, body tingling, flying, giddy-great. He takes his fingers out of Steve’s mouth and seals their lips together, kisses him good and hard and moves his hand down between Steve’s legs, skips past his dick and past his balls and presses the tips of his fingers to Steve’s hole, drinks in the whine it gets him, gets drunk on the way Steve lets his knees fall open, tilts his hips up for it.

Steve makes a desperate little noise into his mouth, squirming under him a little, and Billy pulls back and eases his grip on his throat, watches the red drain out of his face, lets him suck in a few breaths.

‘Christ, Billy. Fuck.’ Steve hooks his ankles behind Billy’s thighs, gets his hands on Billy’s waist. ‘Come on.’

Billy pushes the very tip of his middle finger in. ‘Yeah? You want more?’ He gives Steve’s neck a little squeeze, and Steve groans.

‘Yeah. Yeah, god. Please.’

Billy ducks down, kisses him real quick, then clamps his hand down on Steve’s throat and pushes his finger into his hole in one long steady relentless slide, and Steve’s back bows up off the bed, long low moan sending vibrations up through Billy’s palm into his arm and on to kick around in his chest. He works his finger, pulls it out a little and pushes it back in, crooks it and strokes Steve’s insides, head all spinny at the hot tight squeeze of it. 

He’s wearing too many clothes. Wants to feels Steve’s skin on his skin.

He lets go of Steve’s throat, pulls his finger out and makes Steve whimper. Strips his shirt off.

‘Oh, fuck, Billy,’ Steve says, sounding fucking wrecked, and Billy looks down at him. Feels himself go hot at the awestruck, besotted look on his face. Steve’s biting his lip and looking real fucking gone, cheeks flushed red. ‘Can I. I wanna-’ He reaches a hand out, tentative, kinda lets it hover in between them, inches from Billy’s chest. From the big scars there.

Billy grabs Steve’s hand. Lays it over the one on his chest. Steve lets out a ragged breath, closes his eyes, digs his fingertips in. Billy feels fucking blinded, like he’s staring into the sun, like he’s feeling too many too big too incredible things and he might cry, but in a good way. 

‘Steve,’ he says, sounds too rough, and Steve opens his eyes, looks up at him. ‘I love you, you know.’

He thinks it’s the first time he’s said it since before. Steve smiles, a soft, pretty thing. ‘Fuckin’ sap. Supposed to be teachin’ me a lesson, aren’t you?’

It makes Billy smile, gets all that big shit he’s still feeling focused down again, manageable. He touches the red marks on Steve’s throat with two fingers, pops the button on his jeans with his other hand. ‘Tryin’ to, anyway. You never seem to fuckin’ learn.’ He shoves his jeans down, shuffles out of them, tosses them off the bed. He crawls up a little, reaches over Steve and grabs the lube out of the drawer in the bedside table.

Steve drags him in for a kiss after he settles back between his legs, takes his wrist and guides his hand back up to his neck. ‘Guess you ought to try harder.’ 

Billy takes his hand back dumps some lube on his fingers, shoves two of them into Steve real quick, makes him swear. ‘You’re fuckin’ bossy.’ He twists his fingers, and Steve clutches at his shoulder. Billy smacks him in the cheek, not too hard, more of a tap, watches the way it makes his lips part, makes his eyes go a little far away. ‘Hands off.’

Steve stretches his arms up above his head, wraps his fingers around the slats in the headboard. Billy grins. Steve flushes, red creeping down his chest. Nipples getting a little harder.

Billy pulls his fingers out, slicks his dick up. Watches the way Steve’s chest heaves, the way he licks his lips, spreads his knees, tips his hips up. Lets him wait for it. 

‘Billy,’ he says.

Billy grins. Touches his hole with one finger. Doesn’t put it in, just touches it.

Billy.’

Steve's knuckles go white, body tense as hell. Billy rubs the tip of his finger over his hole, does it again, and again. Steve’s dick twitches on his belly, red and shiny. 

‘Billy, you asshole-’ 

Billy takes his hand away completely, sits back on his heels, not touching Steve anywhere. Steve’s practically vibrating, wound so tight. His eyebrows knit together, thighs shaking a little. 

Then, he blows out a breath, forehead smoothing out as he gives up. Gives in. His body goes slack, legs falling open. He tips his chin up a little, bares his throat.

‘Billy, please.’ 

‘Ask me again.’

‘Please.’

‘Please what, baby?’

Steve pulls his feet up, opens his legs wider. ‘Fuck me. Please.’

Billy gets up on his knees, shuffles in closer. Rubs the tip of his dick over Steve’s hole, makes him gasp, makes him shudder. ‘What else?’

He pushes in, dizzy with how fucking good it is, how tight and hot and incredible Steve is under him, around him. ‘Oh, fuck,’ Steve says, shaky, ‘oh god, Billy.’

What else?’ Billy asks, going still with his dick halfway in.

Steve moans. ‘Ch-choke me. Come on, Billy, please.’ 

Billy ducks down, presses their lips together, pleased. Drunk as hell on it. 

Then he gets his hand back on Steve’s throat and squeezes until his he can feel it in his bicep and snaps his hips forward and lets himself get swept up in the noises Steve makes, the way his eyes kinda roll back in his head and his dick leaks between them and his back bows and he just lets Billy, just opens himself up and lets Billy fuck him silly, choke him stupid.

Neither of them last very long. Too much heat between them, too much electricity. Steve comes without a single touch, dick jerking between them, mouth open but silent and that’s more than enough to get Billy there, Steve clamped down around him, out of his head, most incredible thing Billy’s ever seen. 

Steve is fucking everything. Billy would do anything for him.

He lets go of his throat, soothes his sweaty hair back.

‘Oh my god,’ Steve says, and Billy runs his hands up his arms and laces their fingers together. His voice is shot to hell. Billy kisses his chin.

He was afraid they wouldn’t be able to have this anymore, that the monster had somehow gotten his shadows in this too, that he wouldn’t be able to take like this from Steve, wouldn’t be able to give like this, that it would feel too close, would be too close to the dark. 

He should have known. Should have known better.

‘I’m an idiot,’ he says, kisses Steve’s neck.

‘What?’

‘I thought I wouldn’t be able to do this. I was an idiot. You’re. God, Steve. I should have fucking known. I’m an idiot.’

Steve looks at him, swallows thickly, licks his lips, still looks a little gone, a little checked out. ‘’m not following.’

He kisses Steve’s cheek, his temple, his forehead. ‘I love you. That’s all. I just love you.’

Steve smiles, rolls his eyes, squeezes Billy’s hands with his fingers. ‘I know.’

They’re not fixed, and everything isn’t perfect, and they’re not the same people that they were before the world turned upside down, before the shadows and the light switched places. They’re a little fucked up, a little scarred, but here, like this, where the shadows are smallest and he can feel Steve on him, light of him like the midday sun, he thinks they’ll be alright. That somehow, someday, they’ll be okay. 

They’re okay.